The No Plastic Holiday Challenge

Plastic is all around us. From our kids’ toys to their sippy cups, from grocery bags to Tupperware bowls, from furniture to toothbrushes. That’s not even including all of the plastic involved in packaging – from food to appliances to toys to clothing. Plastic is everywhere and while it’s not good for our health, it may be even worse for our environment, so this holiday season I am challenging all of you to become more aware of your plastic consumption and make conscious choices to avoid plastic whenever possible.

Consider this information from Plastic Bag Free.com:

  • Plastic production uses 8% of all the world’s oil production.
  • At the current rate the world produces 200 million tons of plastic a year. Less than 3.5% is recycled. In other words, 96% of all the world’s plastic is not recycled.
  • The world plastic production is increasing at 3.5% per year. This means every 20 years the amount of plastic we produce doubles.
  • The world produces over 200 million tons of plastic annually. Around half of this is used for disposable items of packaging that are discarded within a year. This debris is accumulating in landfill and the problem is growing.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade, they photo degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil, waterways, oceans and entering the food web when ingested by animals.
  • The dawn of the plastic era was in 1950s. This was when we first started to use plastic for consumer goods on a mass scale.
  • Scientists estimate each plastic item could last in the environment anywhere between 400 to 1000 years.
  • In short, since the 1950’s almost every piece of plastic that we have ever made, used and thrown away is still here on this planet in one form or another, whether its in our homes, in landfill or in the environment; and it will be here for centuries to come.
  • Worldwide, at least 143 marine species are known to have become entangled in marine debris (including almost all of the world’s species of sea turtles) and at least 177 marine species (including 95% of all the world’s sea birds) have eaten plastic litter.

Additionally, Plastic Bag Free.com reports,

People often ask, “What is the most concerning form of plastic marine debris? Is it discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), is it plastic bags, is it six-pack rings?”
The truth is it’s everything plastic in the ocean. All plastic breaks down into particles. It does not dissolve; it just breaks into tiny pieces and stays there. At this size it is small enough to be ingested by every single organism in the world’s oceans – animals as small as krill and salps (plankton feeders) right up to the great Blue Whale. These particles known as oceanic microplastics are now so prolific in the oceans that they outweigh plankton. In some large areas it is at a ratio of 30 to 1 (so 30 times more plastic than plankton) and the problem is growing fast.

Disturbing? Yes. Frightening? Sure. Hopeless? No. While we may not be able to do anything about the plastic that is already in the environment, the choices we make today will affect our future as well as our children’s and our grandchildren’s. This needs to be a collective effort. Remember, we vote with our dollars. The more we buy plastic products, the more plastic will be manufactured. Conversely, the more we buy sustainable products, the more sustainable products will be made.

The Challenge
I challenge all of you to do something about the growing plastic problem. When shopping for gifts this holiday season, try to find alternatives to plastic items AND look for items that don’t come with excessive plastic packaging.

Of course I’m not going to tell you, “Plastic is everywhere” and then say “Don’t buy it!” without giving you some suggestions on how you can avoid it, because I try to be helpful like that. Here are several suggestions to help you with this challenge.

Homemade Gifts
Kalyn Denny wrote 10 Great Homemade Food Gifts, and No Cooking Required for Some! with a wide variety from cookies and biscotti to meals in a jar and pet treats.

Over at Lighter Footstep there Ten Elegant, Inexpensive Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas including homemade bath salts, holiday wreaths, reusable fabric shopping bags and home-canned fruits.

Kit Bennett has tips for Making Gifts on a Budget over at Amazing Moms.

If you don’t want to make the gifts yourself but like the idea of purchasing something homemade, check out Pledge Handmade where people can “Pledge to buy handmade this holiday season, and request that others do the same for me.”

Of course, one great place to find homemade items is Etsy. I can’t say that you won’t find anything crafted out of plastic there, because that’s just not true, but many things containing plastic have been upcycled. According to Wikipedia, “‘Upcycling is the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.’ This process allows for the reduction of waste and use of virgin materials.”

Buy From Women
Over at Tip Junkie, is the 2008 Holiday Mom-preneur Shop-a-thon, where “the challenge is to buy your gifts from women & fellow bloggers.” “With so many struggling with the economy, we have the combined power and influence to make a difference in these women’s lives and give their families a wonderful holiday. All while enjoying their fabulous products in our own homes and those of our loved ones.” There are over 200 women-owned stores listed here in a wide variety of categories.

Also, over at Thoughtfully Simple is the Pledge to Buy Mom-Made challenge, where mompreneurs can leave a link along with a coupon code if they like to their store in the comments.

Eco-Friendly Gifts
Over at Green and Clean Mom, Sommer reviews the book Green Christmas which “gives some great suggestions on involving my family in the green Christmas movement. Suggesting ideas on cutting energy, reducing the waste of wrapping paper, recycling gifts and reducing the number of gifts given and received.” She’s also giving a copy of the book away.

At Modern Eco Homes, Kristen Banker wrote Top Eco-Friendly Charities and Fair Trade Gift Sites.

Give to humankind, and the betterment of life on earth, or to someone else’s life, which will make a mark on your own heart and soul. Giving charitable donations creates a feeling unlike any other. Buying from websites that give back to indigenous communities, creates a global unity. Just knowing that you are doing a small part to better this earth we inhabit makes all the difference in the world.

At Peekaboo, Caryn Bailey highlights some fabulously green gift ideas for moms and tots.

Reduce Plastic Packaging
Beth from Fake Plastic Fish wrote a great post with ideas on how to cut back on plastic packing materials too. Some of her suggestions include: “When ordering online, request zero plastic and Styrofoam packaging specifically” and “Find ways to wrap gifts without paper or tape.”

What do you think? Avoiding plastic doesn’t sound quite so hard now, does it? Are you game to give the challenge a try? Leave a comment below if you will take the No Plastic Holiday Challenge and I’ll add your name (and blog URL if you have one) to a list in my sidebar of challenge participants. Feel free to grab the button above to put on your blog (or email me if you need the code). I don’t expect perfection on this challenge, but I’m going to give it my best shot and I hope you will too. Don’t forget to take your reusable bags shopping with you!

Related blogs and posts:

Cross-posted at BlogHer

86 thoughts on “The No Plastic Holiday Challenge”

  1. This is a really good challenge. J. and I were already going to try and avoid plastic this holiday. For my parents I want to give donations in their names and J. wants to make cutting blocks for his now we just need to convince them to give us stuff with little to no plastic.

  2. I’m in! Okay, well, I already made this promise to Beth over at at Fake Plastic Fish…but I’ll make it here too. I’ve been slowly writing a “Green The Season” series on my blog so I will be sure to link to this post soon and get some more people to join in your challenge.

  3. I’m in! We are already well on our way, as I’ve done most of my shopping at Nubius Organics. I did buy Suzi a Green Toys plastic tea set, but I don’t think that should count because it’s made out of recycled milk cartons. I am an Etsy lover too. I’d MUCH rather make someone’s day by buying some of their crafts in a slow economic season than line Wal-Mart’s pockets any more.

    Also, thehungersite.com has a shop with some awesome fair trade and handmade gifts. It tells you how many cups of rice will be donated for each purchase you make. And I think shipping only costs $1, but that may be for a limited time. OH, and I’m going to an alternative gift fair where you donate in someone’s name rather than giving them more useless clutter. Heifer International is a cool program for things like that.

  4. I’m in since I’m making most of my girl’s Christmas gifts this year. I can’t promise the grandparents will be going plastic free since I believe that PlayMobil is a big part of their shopping list but at least we’ll be buying less this year.

  5. I have gotten a lot of gifts on etsy.com this year and some from mom owned stores.

    I have done pretty well about staying away from plastic.

    I have been reusing gift bags from years before and wrapping paper I have had for years. I also got some recycled made with soy ink paper to try out.

    I hope to get cloth gift bags for next year.

    I have gotten organic foods for food gifts, like I said lots of etsy, and some friends stores.

    My brother and I are donating to causes for each other for Christmas this year so very waste free. 🙂

  6. I will do my best to stay away from plastic. With the budget we have this year it will be an interesting addition to my own self imposed gift challenges. I really try and buy useful or simple gifts, and since I have to ship some to my family in the eastern part of the country they can not be too big, bulky or heavy either.
    Good luck everyone.

  7. I got a great gift set @ http://www.sustainablesourcing.com/

    The HimalaSalt and Organic Peppercorns are packaged in 100% recycled, refillable, and reusable grinders and containers. They are nested in a locally produced box, made of wood that is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, with excelsior from a sustainable tree program in the Rockies. The kit is wrapped in clear EarthFirst PLA, the only 100% certified compostable corn shrink wrap. With packaging like this, there’s nothing to throw away. An important part of their company philosophy is to leave the lightest footprint. By creating the highest quality natural products and doing no harm in the process, they are reinforcing their commitment to a cleaner planet.

  8. I’m game! For my teen, we bought concert tickets to a musical she loves. For the baby and the toddler, they will get toys recycled from another family who is trying to pare down their stash. We are going to ask the grandparents to give cloth or wood gifts, but there are no guarantees there, from my flashy, plastic-y, battery-lovin’ in-laws.

  9. Hopefully, this will become more than a challenge… but a life change. I think the very thought that goes into making important changes in our lives is the impetus for lasting change. Just this morning, your challenge reminded me to continue wrapping portions of meals that I make for my elderly mom in bowls with glass lids rather than plastic. First, my mom always tells me how festive it is to prepare her meals when I’ve placed things like stew, lasagna, chicken, etc. in “real” servers, as she calls them! It is very heart-warming for me to make my mom happy in this little way… and to continue to challenge myself and my own children and grandchildren to do the same.

    Many thanks for such simple reminders to such a complex problem…

  10. One of the greenest gifts that we can give is to donate to a good cause in place of giving someone a gift. I’ve done this with family members before, and it always fills our hearts. Not only are we not buying anything, but we are hopefully giving someone else a more pleasant holiday. It’s good for the earth and good for the soul!

  11. Another way to go greener is to buy second-hand items, and then personalize them in some way. Get creative.

    – Buy a used jacket, and stitch your loved ones initials on it
    – Buy a used purse, adding some decoration to it to make it that much more special

    Buying used items means that you are increasing an item’s life span, you are getting something that was already here (rather than something new travelling from China, etc.), and often you can get really nice things for less money!

    You can also get jars, decorative boxes, etc., second hand, and then fill these with bath salts, or baked goods, etc.

  12. I love a challenge yet this is overwhelming since I have my Christmas shopping done. Although I made a lot of gifts this year and cut back a lot. I just purchased a basketball hoop made of plastic … My only consolation is that we will use and reuse items for a long time.

  13. Post is up. “If you are thinking of buying gifts for our family this year, please consider buying items made of cloth or wood, or non-present presents, like a gift certificate to a restaurant or an event. Or baked goods would be good. I like chocolate chip. *hint, hint*”

  14. I was gonna try and do this anyway so might as well make it official. COUNT ME IN!!

    Btw, have you heard of the Japanese Furoshiki, it’s like a way of folding a cloth to wrap things in – i.e. groceries. I guess it could also be a plastic-free way of wrapping gifts.

  15. I’m joining in on the challenge. I want to cut back on cheap plastic toys and rid my kids of sippy cups. They are getting one nice, eco friendly sippy cup and thats it..the dollar store stuff my mom gets needs to stop. Made in China and sometimes has that toxic smell. I have to talk with her…Thanks again for the post!

  16. I am in!

    The last thing we need around here is more toys, and plastic crap! I am shooting for one nice family gift (can you say Wii?) and I am working hard already on the homemade gifts for as many as possible 😉

  17. I’m always up for a challenge like this 🙂 One stocking stuffer I’ve already bought is Preserve toothbrushes made from recycled #5 plastic containers. Other planned gifts are decorated baskets from Goodwill filled with soap nuts, homemade no-poo shampoo balls, and homemade jam. Should be a riot!!

  18. One of my favorite ways to reduce during the holiday season is to make cloth gift bags that can be reused either as gift bags or as great storage bags for little things like toy cars and airplanes, or make great travel bags to organize your/your kids’ suitcase (you can keep track of those tiny kid socks with ease). I just cut and sew the size I need and then make a series of button holes around the top and thread it with grosgrain ribbon (which I can usually find ‘end of spool’ discounts at the local cloth store…also the scraps section of the fabric store is a great place to find inexpensive fabric to make the bags). And this year I’m planning to make them big and sturdy enough to be reused as grocery bags!

  19. Thanks for all of this info, Amy. Yesterday I went into a chain craft store for the first time in over a year, trying to find some recycled and relatively natural products with which to start working on handmade holiday gifts. There was already Christmas music playing, and I was totally overwhelmed by the excess plastic and junk from China everywhere. I left with nothing that fit my criteria (and no plastic shopping bag). I am happy to take the no plastic holiday challenge, and I know I will have a better holiday for it!

  20. I’d love to be a part of this! I created my one-year-old son’s Christmas wishlist and my new baby’s (I’m pregnant) registry list with this in mind. Everything I added to their list is U.S.-made or guaranteed to be fairly traded in another country. No plastic – only wood, wool, and organic cotton. I’m either sewing all the gifts I give to family members, or purchasing them from fair trade, environmentally conscious stores. I find that the fair trade factor is equally important to consider – human trafficking is a major problem, just like plastic contamination.
    Thanks for the reminder to consider what really matters!

  21. OMG! Thank you for this. I have been unemployed for over a year and was stressing on what to do about Christmas. Your challenge just gave me the idea to take that pile of old out of style clothes and use them to make quilted shopping bags for my family. It would be quicker at this late dte than trying to make full fledged quilts for everyone. (Plus I don’t think I’d have enough material for that) So count me in on the challenge!

  22. I’m in! The real challenge for me will be stocking stuffers… stockings are a BIG deal in my family and stocking-appropriate items tend toward the plastic.

  23. I’m in! I decided to make my own gift bags this year. I found a couple of Christmas tablecloths from Goodwill and cut them up to make drawstring bags of various sizes. This was cheaper than buying them (though you can, on sites like reuseablebags.com), and it was a great repurposing of an old item. I’m trying to buy things to help others transition to life-less-plastic, like Klean Kanteens and canvas bags.

  24. A few months ago I emailed all my family and friends and asked them to simply stop using plastic bags at the grocery store. I also included that I will purchase re-usable bags for everyone on my Christmas list, which will serve as their gift bag. I have already done a few and they are great! Its definitely a start. All the kids in my family got “planet earth” stuffed animals and all the packaging and even the animal is made from recycled material…NO PLASTIC! Loves to all….

  25. I’ll give this a try. As a college student without cash for the holidays, I’ve been planning on buying second hand gifts or handmade crafts at open air markets.
    I’m not sure I can get my family to cut down on plastics, but I sure will try!

    I’ll also be blogging about this later today.

  26. This is something we can all train ourselves to do – introduce a few small changes to our behavior and develop healthy habits…Check out the all-natural, organic hair pomade PRODUCT – environmentally friendly in content and packaging!

    I’m posting to The PRODUCT Blog soon, and will include a mention of the No-Plastic Holiday Challenge – Thank you!

  27. Thanks to my daughter, I’m more aware of the damage created by the chemical world we live in. Plastic, in particular, is a big No-No in her home. For Christmas, her 2-yr-old twins are getting toys from my attic…a wooden doll cradle & high chair,
    Fisher Price wooden Little People sets, and books….which all belonged to their Mom when she was little. I’ve been saving them for 30 yrs! It’s a joy to see those toys being played with again, by my grand-
    children…and watching my daughter play with them is fun too…lots of memories!
    The toys are clean and have all been checked for safety. And best of all, there isn’t a battery involved anywhere to make annoying “lights & sounds”!
    She also makes their dolls & puppets from organic material, and the babies love them.
    So, as an “enlightened” grandma, I pay more attention to what I buy. (And pass the word on to other grandparents….
    Sometimes older IS better!)

  28. I wish I had seen this earlier. I feel like going green(er) next year is inevitable. I saw an article on a purchaseless Christmas and loads on making things yourself. I wanted to make all our own decorations for the tree but we never got around to it.

    You’ve really inspired me though. I think next year we’re going to do all of that.

    No plastic
    All handmade gifts
    Handmade decorations

    I love it!

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  30. Right on! I’m in…I’ll save the badge when I get home.

    This year I will be making homemade lotion for my family, packaged in baby food jars that I’m going to request from my freecycle list. I’m so excited about the no plastic challenge!

  31. just tried your link in the sentence:

    Kit Bennett has tips for Making Gifts on a Budget over at Amazing Moms.

    you may want to check & correct if necessary- it brought me over to Disney’s family website- yuck!

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