Search This Blog

Friday, December 30, 2011

Being Gifted with Plastic

The holidays are drawing to a much new plastic did you take in this week?  How much went out?  Are you somebody who thinks about these things?  In my little corner of the world, I sometimes feel like an alien.  I worry about plastic.  I think about it a lot.  I try not to bring it into my life.  But then there are the times when I receive a gift.  What if that gift is plastic?  What is the common courtesy around such things?

Here's an example:  Our elementary school decided to sell Smencils.  They are pencils that fruit or gum or whatever else.  I had a little talk with my sons and we all decided we didn't need smelly pencils, especially since we had enough pencils and the Smencils each come in a plastic tube to keep the smell intact.  The tube claims that it is biodegradeable (I am currently testing this out to see how long that actually takes and whether it works at all).  The Smencils come to the school in #3 (PVC) plastic tubs.  (Yeah, that's PVC, the 'poison plastic' - doesn't recycle many places and is toxic from start to finish.  The tubs are now sitting in my garage because our PTO pres. gave them to me to use in the classrooms as Terracycle collection tubs - but I don't want any more PVC in our school, so I am determined to find a place that will recycle them.  This is stressful to me, though, as I really wish we did not buy pencils packaged in plastic inside of plastic!)  So, back to my story....I tell the PTO pres. that it really is OK that my kids do not get Smencils...since our school has a policy that everyone gets a Smencil, even if they can't afford to order one for themselves.  But people are allowed to buy Smencils for other people, so that's exactly how we ended up with a Smencil.  My next-door neighbor bought a Smencil for my son.  A nice gesture.  He accepted the Smencil happily with a 'Thank you' and brought it home from school.  Did I tell the PTO about the issues I had with Smencils before they started selling them? - yes.  Smencils are marketed as eco-friendly, so when I told them, they had the same reaction they have to most of my anti-plastic statements....not again!  Why do I think about these things?  Don't I know how cool Smencils are?  They are made of recycled newspapers.  Do I want to deny our kids the joy of experiencing them?

I went to the mother/son dance last year with my then-1st-grader.  They had a dance contest and he won a prize.  The DJ handed him something and he came over to show me what it was:  a set of plastic teeth with a battery inside.  When you bite the plastic, it lights up inside your mouth.  Packaged in plastic.  Great!  Just what we needed!  My son knew that this was not a good gift, but what could we do with this item now?  We could give it away and it would still end up dying in a landfill or the ocean or elsewhere, stuff leaking out of the battery, if it didn't already leak into some poor child's mouth!

Every class party, my kids bring home treat bags.  I usually cringe before opening them, because I know what they are full of:  plastic dollar store trinkets and candy, all wrapped in plastic.  Full of good intentions, but nothing that we needed or wanted.

So what do you do with gifts like these?  I think the only thing you can really do is educate ahead of time and hope that people will listen to your requests.  When they don't, I'm not sure there is much you can do unless you want to alienate these people from your life.  People have told me I should just give the things away to 'those who don't have toys and who would appreciate them'.  It's not that I don't appreciate the thought, it is that I don't appreciate the harm that comes from these things.  And I don't really want to pass that along to another person.  It's the same way I feel about donations to the food bank:  If it's not something I would want to eat, why would I want to give it to another person?

So to anyone reading this who is thinking about giving me a gift, please hear me when I say:  Your smile, your presence, the delightful sound of your laughter, the funny stories you tell, your delicious homemade cookies, the way you put up with me and still stick around...all of these are my most treasured possessions, the things that I want from you.  If it is plastic, please do not buy it for me or my family.  And if you invite me for dinner on plastic plates, please do not be offended if I take them home to reuse and if the next time I eat at your house I bring my own plates.  Thank you very much!!!

p.s. - Thank you, Mom, for hearing me about the plastic!  It is a shame that those earwarmers had to come packaged in a hard plastic case, but other than that, you did not add to my plastic tally this Christmas - yeah!!!  We didn't buy much for Christmas this year.  It really warmed my heart when my middle son told me that his favorite gift was a book of bedtime stories since he would get a chance to read them to us every night.

Have a peaceful, less-plastic-filled New Year!!!


  1. Kate,

    I think I might have to send this along to my family -- we have a family gmail account and just maybe they will get a better sense of where I am coming from if they see that there are other people out there that feel the same way...

    They all get an email from me when I write a new blog post, too...

    Happy New Year!


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. My Dearest Kate,
    Educating people is what it's all about. Most people don't care to hear it, but there are others (like me) that welcome the knowledge about plastic and what it does to harm our wonderful earth. There is so much extravagance in our world and we need to get back to 'good ole days'. Dad and I have cut down on our waste so much that there are weeks that we go around outside looking for plants, etc. to put in our trashcan because it is so empty....this is a good thing. We are determined to make our new, little retirement cottage a 'green house'. We will have time to find recycling centers that take odd items. We will always use glass dishware except for those few times when we may use paper. I need information on recycling the water filters that we use, which I will research. I will continue to save aluminum foil for Sr. Mary Joseph for her recycling campaign until I have a big bag and then that will give me an excuse to visit her.
    As always you are my inspiration. I just hate to see you get so upset when you see other people using plastic, so from now on, maybe you can just educate them and push the stress away :)

  4. Hey Kate,

    How do you quantify the savings...that's where I have trouble. For instance, now has 'frustration free' packaging. They have the buying power to do away with plastic clamshell packaging, etc. Your stuff comes in a cardboard box with a thin PLASTIC bag inside. Surely an improvement over retail packaging, but...

    Is it better for me to get the product via Amazon, have it shipped (what's the carbon effect of shipping to my door vs. large truckloads to a local business - probably minimal if I drive to the store rather than biking) and it arrives inside a SECOND box with plastic packaging peanuts or air-pillow bags. I guess that's why they call it frustration-free and not 'eco'.

    See more about this here:

    Anyway, I'm glad you care about this stuff. I hope you help find the answer someday in a way that's easily marketable to the general public.