Just Say No to Cheap Plastic Crap

October 15th, 2007

Today is Blog Action Day, and bloggers throughout the world are uniting to discuss the environment.

I’m asking you to join me in the campaign to Just Say No to Cheap Plastic Crap. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the little plastic snakes, tops, rings and other assorted JUNK that show up inside your home once your child starts attending birthday parties and school fairs.

I don’t know a single parent who likes this stuff. Not a one. In just one hour Sunday, I had two parents approach me to complain about Cheap Plastic Crap. Brian bemoaned the fact that he hates the goody bags that his kids haul back from birthday parties and Liz told me that she feels like her “second job” is picking up all the Cheap Plastic Crap littering her playroom.

But picking up all the Cheap Plastic Crap only extends the battle against this stuff. Because where does it go once it leaves your house? It’s not recyclable, so it goes to landfills, where it leaches plastic toxins into the earth.

The best way to prevent the encroachment of Cheap Plastic Crap into your playrooms and ultimately into our landfills, is to Just Say No. But what to offer your little darlings instead of Cheap Plastic Crap? Here are 10 ideas for little replacement trinkets to give out as prizes at school carnivals and to stuff into goody bags (if you must). Now go do it. Join the Campaign to Just Say No to Cheap Plastic Crap. Leave a comment here on OrganicMania saying you’re onboard!

10 Ways to Just Say No to Cheap Plastic Crap
1. Run a book exchange. Ask everyone to bring old books from home, and mix it up. Everyone leaves with a new book.
2. Bake cookies and use those as prizes. If you’re running a school fair, this is a two-fer, because the baked goods always seem to end up being sold for half-off in the last hour of the school fair.
3. If your kids are old enough, teach them why Cheap Plastic Tchotchkes (you may not want to say crap in front of your kids!) are bad for the environment. Your kids will probably have tons of ideas for things you can give away.
4. Coins. Foreign coins, and cool US coins like the dollar coins and US state quarters are popular with kids.
5. Similarly, US and foreign commemorative stamps and first day covers make great prizes.
6. Wooden toys for goody bags. Admittedly, these can be expensive, but there are parents who spend $5 or more on goody bags. Why not give away something like one awesome wooden racing car instead of a bunch of mass produced plastic junk? You can get handcrafted wooden mini-cars for $5 each at Vermont Wooden Toys.

7. Customized wooden nickels for school fairs. These are really cool. Maple Land Mark, another fine Vermont toy maker, will customize wooden nickels for your school or organization. You can get 250 of these for under a quarter!
8. Postcards. These don’t have to be new. In fact, old ones with writing can be more interesting to kids. They can read the messages and play imaginary games about the postcard’s people and places.
9. Maps. Not the fancy, laminated maps which aren’t recyclable. Think instead of the free paper maps given out by tourist boards.
10. Origami kits are fun and unique. Just look for kits with simple packaging – or make your own – so that you don’t end up with a lot of plastic lamination along with your paper!

Have fun! And let me know if these tips work for you or if there are people out there who will fight for the right to keep their Cheap Plastic Crap!
– Lynn

3/31/08 Update: Looking for more eco-friendly birthday party favors? Check out these great ideas from Enviromom!

Copyright 2007, OrganicMania

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33 Responses to “Just Say No to Cheap Plastic Crap”

  1. Sue on October 15, 2007 7:47 pm

    I totally agree with you about all the cheap plastic crap that we acquire from various parties and kid events. I also notice that my kids do not play with the stuff after 1 hour or so from the end of the party. We end up throwing it out a couple of weeks/months later. I also feel really torn about the whole gift bag idea. While it is so nice to give a thanks to all the kids who come, giving away useless items that no one wants is so depressing. I have attempted to stop the whole gift bag concept but have settled on giving interesting school supplies instead. Well at least someone can use a pencil, cool notebooks, stickers, erasers and a sharpener.

    BTW, I love the links to wooden toys and it is fabulous to find toys that are actually made in the USA, where at least the lead paint is kept to a bare minimum. I would be interesting in hearing more about local toy options as the holidays approach.

    Speaking of plastic crap, we were at target the other day and brought home Halloween decorations that of course were plastic. The kids love these things and so, you know how it goes. Got any ideas for environmentally friendly Halloween items?

    Thanks for the comment — my very first one. Great to hear your thoughts. You guessed it – I will be posting on Halloween ideas soon. I was planning to focus on food items (costly organic chocolate vs. cheap genetically modified corn syrup treats) but will look into the decorations idea too. I’ve been wondering what’s in all that spider web that’s going up around my neighborhood! — Lynn

  2. Marilyn on October 15, 2007 9:02 pm

    Lynn:
    I am such a fan, and definitely sign me up if you start a petition on this issue!

    Here are a few more suggestions for goody bags:
    * Coloring books and crayons
    * Washable tattoos (not perfect, but consumable)
    * stickers (same, not perfect, but small and not too environmentally toxic)
    * Little post-it note type pads – for example, I put a little A-shaped pad in Alex’s stocking and B in Brendan’s; there are soooo many choices at craft stores and dollar stores.
    * gift certificates for McDonald’s sundaes (again, not ideal, but they won’t clutter the house) And don’t even get me started on Happy Meal toys
    * sidewalk chalk
    * Hand or finger puppets. For our sons’ first birthday party, I had no idea what to give the kids who came, and decided on these. I think they cost about $3 each, but three years later, they are still kicking around our playroom (and occasionally used).
    * As an activity/favor, have someone make small paper mache figures which the kids can paint. Again, a bit of clutter, but we’re talking about paper, flour and water – a fine bit of biodegradable material when everyone tires of looking at the pig/dog/multi-colored blob.
    * For Fall carnivals: little gourds – purchased 3/$1 or less, and my kids LOVE theirs.

    Good luck with the new blog!
    Marilyn

    Marilyn, what great ideas you’ve sent along! Thanks so much. And while I at first was half joking about a petition, I think I actually will start one. I looked into it tonight, but the night is wearing on and I’m a single Mom this week…so the petition drive will have to wait a little bit. Stay tuned! Best, Lynn

  3. Nicholas on October 16, 2007 8:38 am

    Speaking of Cheap Plastic Crap (CPC) that we find ubiquitous as parents, how about all the Cheap Plastic Cutlery we end up going through everytime we hold a kid’s party. Hardly a consistant message to send: “We don’t want to give you CPC for gifts, but here, use this Cheap Plastic fork to eat j your food. I’ll just throw it away when your done.” This way they can have the fun of digging it up 60 years from now with their grandkids. It will still be there!

    Ok, wouldn’t be fair of me to be snarky on Lynn’s new blog (welcome to the club!) if I wasn’t going somewhere with this. Over in England, they have “SpudWare”.

    http://www.vegware.co.uk/products/cutlery.html
    # biodegrades in 180 days
    # made from corn and potato
    # GM free
    # heat resistant up to 105C
    # durable and reusable
    # good feel and weight

    Now, its not cheap (10 each of knives, forks, and spoons, and cost £2.97). But if we want such products to become common and cheap, we need to think about supporting these companies now while they try to start the change.

    They also sell other party tableware like plates, etc.

    Additional thought before I submit: I think I saw similar cultery at Target last time I was there. I will try to remember to check and update.

    “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Ghandi

    You make a good point, Nicholas…but that’s just why it’s a mania…there is so much to think about with changing our typical consumerist lifestyle, that it can just drive you crazy! It’s never ending…but so important. With regard to the plastic cutlery, I do wash and re-use what I can, but frankly a lot of it does end up being tossed by other parents and kids. Now that I’m more mindful of this, I’ll be moving towards using regular cutlery at parties or perhaps buying some of the biodegradable stuff. Great source, thanks for passing along. With darling hubby in London this week, perhaps he can pick some up! :) – Lynn

  4. JP on October 16, 2007 10:53 am

    Lynn:

    Great Post!!!! Ban Plastic Crap!!!

    I am traveling in London and I noticed the absence of the plastic crap distribution system known as Happy Meals.

    Is this a general trend in Europe?

    Keep up the great work.

  5. BEmama on October 16, 2007 11:05 am

    Great post! I went through this nearly a year ago for my children’s third BD party. I ended up at a garden store and bought little figures that grew grass when watered. My kids have gotten some great gifts, such as wooden whistles and plastic hula hoops, as BD party favors. Frankly, I was lucky to strike paydirt at the garden center: the clerk was annoyed at spending the whole weekend with his kids at various BD parties and shared my frustration with the end-of-party-gift-bag tradition. I now have 2 1/2 months to come up with a “green” idea for this year!

    Thanks, BEmama! Well, it looks like you’ve got plenty of time to come up with the green ideas. Let me know what works for you! Maybe you’ll inspire some other Moms! — Lynn

  6. Jo on October 16, 2007 2:51 pm

    Great leadership, Lynn! Al Gore may inspire, but the mom’s will make it happen! My sons are older now, but we never, ever did the CPC stuff for party favors– always chose one nice wooden toy, one nice animal… Some of the guests, 12 and older now, tell me they still have the toys they got at the little kid birthday parties. And– we didn’t go in for the candy and hordes of screaming children, either (though some of my friends were pretty good at the huge parties). We had small parties, where we put on homemade puppet shows. The guests remember those, too! We had a science party, during which we erupted volcanoes (with homemade paper mache mountains), and, my personal favorite, an upsidedown-backwards party, in which children were supposed to say, “Goodbye!” when they arrived and “Hello!” as they left. They LOVED it! It was screamingly funny. We served lunch under the table (which was set up out on the grass), and everyone wore their clothes inside out.

    Halloween decoration ideas: We suspend bats (acquired various places- some are puppets in real life) by threads in our windows and surround them with real leaves taped to the window in a kind of swirl around them. Part of the fun is collecting the prettiest fall leaves, which we then press in books to keep as much of the color as possible, before we tape them up.

    Have fun!

    Jo

    Jo, thanks for sharing these great stories. You sound like you throw great parties! Love the ideas of pressing fall leaves and putting in the window. I know my kindergartner will have fun with that! — Lynn

  7. Allison on October 16, 2007 3:58 pm

    You make a great point and this post (and ensuing comments) have some great suggestions. Thanks for raising awareness!
    ——
    Allison, glad you’re enjoying the discussion. Thanks for joining in! — Lynn

  8. KP on October 16, 2007 4:36 pm

    I am SO with you! I especially HATE that Oriental Trading Company catalog!!! I also think of the people making this junk, what they must think of us here…consuming all this cheap, useless JUNK. Meanwhile, they are working in boring tedious dead-end jobs, with low pay, in smelly factories, probably in unhealthy conditions, making junk. Imagine making cheesy flimsy toys ALL DAY. And think of all the machinery devoted to making the junk. And how many of these items have lead? Probably a lot of it.

    As far as eating utensils for birthday parties, I just have the kids use my regular silverware and plates. Easy and money-saving!
    —-
    KP, Thanks for sharing these points. It is amazing to think about people who work in jobs like this. — Lynn

  9. Rebecca on October 16, 2007 6:29 pm

    Amen, sister. I hate CPC, too, and have two more ideas for birthday favors we’ve done which were well received by kids and parents.
    One, have the kids decorate clay flower pots, fill with dirt, and add grass seed. They love watching it grow at home.
    Two, make a “mix tape” CD of your kid’s favorite tunes (ok, it’s still plastic, but will actually get used).
    —-
    Rebecca, great ideas! I especially like the flower pot idea! Thanks for sharing. — Lynn

  10. Kate on October 16, 2007 6:42 pm

    For my 3-year-old’s party gift bags, I dropped a Firefly toothbrush into each one — what kid doesn’t love a new toothbrush and they chew them up so fast at this age. Also found mini-boxes of Crayola crayons and cool stencils in party-packs at (gasp!) Wal-Mart. These are very handy things to have left over in your diaper bag when you go out to dinner and need a distraction. One party we went to last summer had as the take-home item kids’ placemats in a wonderful design, rolled up and tied with a bow for each party-goer.

    —-

    Kate, thanks for sharing these ideas! — Lynn

  11. Gift of Green on October 30, 2007 6:34 am

    Hi Lynn -
    Welcome! I’m looking forward to reading more posts and to more useful suggestions from your readers. I’m at the stage where I’m phasing out the CPC and am wondering what the heck to do with it all…?!

    Hi Gift of Green – Thanks for writing! Love your name. Yes, what to do with all the CPC? I have dreams of shipping it back to the manufacturers, but that’s not practical. Throwing it away makes no sense…And it’s not recyclable. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and plan to write more about it…

  12. rejin on November 3, 2007 8:56 am

    Last year I made little fabric bags rather than give cheap plastic bags for the goodie bags. This year I am going to put in leftover Halloween candy, and other things that are consumable. I was thinking about those temporary tattoos, and maybe crayons. And, how about recirculating all the cheap plastic crap? Instead of throwing it away after a few days, collect them for the next set of gift bags? It is still plastic, but not bought new, and the stuff could be kept out of the landfill for a while this way.

    Rejin – Great idea. If you have a pic of the fabric bags, email it to me and I’ll post it! Thanks for sharing! — Lynn

  13. WhyMommy on November 12, 2007 5:12 pm

    I love, love, love this post. I’m sorry I missed it when it was new! Thanks for the great ideas, Lynn. I’m thinking maybe a book exchange for us mamas might work too!

    – Thanks so much for the compliment, WhyMommy, and for dropping by. Yours is the most well written Mommy blog around, and I think of you as the ultimate blogger, so your nice words are high praise to me. You’ve made my day! — Lynn

  14. I knew I liked her « Toddler Planet on November 14, 2007 7:09 pm

    [...] Know who else I like?  Lynn of Organic Mania.  She had an awesome post last month about Cheap Plastic Toys – a major concern in terms of safety AND environmental concerns.  [...]

  15. The Not Quite Crunchy Parent on November 15, 2007 7:30 am

    Hi Lynn,

    Great to see you speaking out on this issue. I am enraged by the plastic crap that ends up all over the house! For parties we start by giving REUSABLE goody bags- little metal buckets, cloth bags baskets. We then fill them with polished rocks, small wooden toys you can pick up for $1-2.00 dollars, tiny stuffed animals, pipe cleaners, playcords and other small natural prizes.

    I have been recruiting my DS in my fight against plastic junk – his 5-year-old vocabulary not includes phthalates and BPA – LOL – kids can be great allies in this battle.

    Hi there, thanks so much for your comment! I agree, but it’s funny to see the parents’ reaction to what our little environmentalists say. At a birthday party recently, my 5-year-old son told all the guests that it was a bad idea to release the balloons because they would end up in the ocean where they could hurt the fish. There were a lot of incredulous sighs and rolled eyes among the parents when he said that! — Lynn

  16. Green Tacky, Tacky at OrganicmaniaOrganic Mania on December 7, 2007 9:45 pm

    [...] tonight we trudged out to Target, that fine purveyer of Cheap Plastic Crap, to get some energy-efficient LED Christmas lights. Regrettably, LEDs are seriously lacking in the [...]

  17. Caroline on January 22, 2008 9:17 pm

    CPC drives me nuts…….and so does LCPC (Large Cheap Plastic Crap) Do you have any advice on how to get friends and relatives to STOP buying LCPC for my 2 1/2 year-old?? I have tried to casually mention we prefer well made wooden toys (and ONE nice toy not five cheap toys). And I have sent email links for several eco-friendly toy companies. I feel like I should have some control on this subject and not just be “grateful” for the gifts. Any tips?? Caroline

    Hi Caroline, thanks for visiting Organicmania and leaving a comment! I have been in your shoes (still am, in fact), so I feel your pain. This is a really tricky issue because it crosses into “giving.” It’s understandable that some people take offense at seemingly being told what to buy, whereas others understand and are happy to oblige! Unfortunately, most Americans can’t make the leap you propose…equating a smaller, higher quality item with say, five cheap toys. It’s in our culture…Bigger is Better. Do you have a small play area? Maybe you could mention that you’re running out of space for all the big toys….or simply start donating the toys you receive to hospitals, homeless shelters and the like. If friends and relatives notice that the gifts they give you are not being used, perhaps eventually they’ll pick up on all your hints. Alternately, have you framed the discussion in environmental terms? Maybe that would help. Good luck! — Lynn

  18. Nancy mathew on March 12, 2008 8:16 pm

    I totally with you. On my son’s birthday I gave out these biodegradable gift bags, bought from http://www.thegreenaura.com They are cheap and I could write the kids name on the bags with a fabric marker. I filled those with choclate gronola bars..all the kids loved it. Thsy stil use is for candies etc.

    Nancy, thanks for the comment and for the tip on greenaura – I hadn’t heard of them before but they have some great stuff. I actually have a post coming up on this topic and I’ll mention them in the post. — Lynn

  19. Just say NO to cheap plastic crap. Oh, and plant a tree with your kids. « Mommy Means Business on March 25, 2008 12:21 pm

    [...] too late to save Easter this year, but it’s never too late to curb our consumption of Cheap Plastic Crap. You know what I’m talking about: the Happy Meal toys, the rings, tops, balls and other [...]

  20. Jennifer Parker on March 27, 2008 6:22 pm

    Does anyone know where you can go to get plastic toddler eating utensils that are not made in China? Everything in the stores seems to be from China and I really don’t like the idea of my son putting plastic from China in his mouth. We are trying to teach him to eat with a fork and spoon.

    Why not skip the plastic and use regular stainless or even silver? That’s probably how you learned to eat! If you can’t find stainless at a baby shop, try a thrift store or consignment shop. Good luck! — Lynn

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  22. Andrea on November 7, 2008 10:35 am

    There are some great ideas here! I have found that when it comes to party favors, it is best to just buy one larger item that may be useful, rather than lots of little plastic crap (or even other little crap). Another thing I do at parties is make the activity or craft part of the take home favor, so they’re not getting additional stuff. Most kids don’t really care what they get anyway. As for school events, it has worked well in our school for kids to accumulate points or tickets to use towards extra recess time or a popcorn or pizza party or something of that nature.

    I write about green living tips on my blog at http://shortcutsleuth.com/category/environment/eco-friendly-environment-2/ and will be sure to add a post about some great alternatives to giving out unrecyclable junk to kids. Thanks for the great article!

  23. Kari on December 31, 2008 2:41 am

    Thank you for this post. I just received an order from Oriental Trading and it came along with a nice warning about chemicals that may cause cancer and reproductive harm. (Umm… that are IN the CPC I was going to give out in goodie bags!). It just woke me up again. I thought these particular toys were safe since they were hard plastic (not soft phthalate stuff), but actually I need to remember that all cheap plastic should be avoided. I am returning a whole lot of CPC and getting a bit more creative! I think I might make teeny tiny books to put in the goodie bags along with stickers and a few other things. Thank you to the previous commenter who mentioned a puppet show! I think I will do that as well. :)

  24. Shoaib on January 9, 2009 3:20 am

    You can say “Welcome to Environment Friendly Party” and print an article on that card about dangers of plastic bags, toys etc..

  25. Organic and Green Mom Blog | 10 Tips for an Eco-Friendly Saint Patrick’s Day at Organic Mania on March 16, 2009 12:30 pm

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  27. Marianna on April 14, 2009 6:06 pm

    Visiting for the plastic carnival. These are great ideas. My twins turn 2 in May and I need ideas for the party. Thanks!

  28. Amber on April 15, 2009 1:54 pm

    I just found this, but I am totally on board. The stuff is awful, toxic, and really hurts to step on. I pledge to do my best to get rid of it. :)

  29. oks on April 18, 2009 8:29 am

    my favorite memory from my birthday party (turning 7) was decorating cookies with friends … seems a pretty fun way to make your favours at the party.

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  31. Organic and Green Mom Blog | Green Schools: Five Lessons Learned the Hard Way at Organic Mania on August 9, 2009 8:59 pm

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  32. Cheap crap | Interswitchwebinfo on May 29, 2011 5:03 am

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  33. In Defense of Beautiful Toys | Laura's "Rules" on April 2, 2012 7:49 pm

    [...] the big box retail store. I do collect dress-ups and nice instruments for the music basket, but party favors and other cheapy stuff get tossed to keep the clutter to a barely-human minimum. (And we’re still plenty [...]

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