Zero-Waste Name Tags

Earlier this year, I joined a local campaign against single-use plastic, and it’s been great working with like-minded, enthusiastic people and feeling so much hope about making the world a better place before it’s too late!  But there was one blind spot in the organizing of our first several meetings that just stunned me:

On the sign-in table was a stack of self-adhesive name tags, just like you’d see at any other meeting.  Nobody had thought about any alternative to buying a non-recyclable plastic box full of labels that feel like paper on top but may have a thin plastic backing to hold the adhesive, and peel off of a slick surface that’s surely some kind of plastic!  Even if I’m misunderstanding and the only plastic is the package, the labels and backing together make a lot of garbage for just showing who’s who for one afternoon!

I did stick one of those name tags on myself, but I kept thinking, Hello my name is IN THE LANDFILL FOREVER.  At the first opportunity, I suggested plastic-free, reusable name tags, made from reused materials, for all our future meetings . . . and there was a collective shrug, somebody said, “If that’s important to you, make your own reusable name tag and carry it with you,” and that was that.

I made my own name tag for the next meeting.  I’ve also used it at other meetings and parties.  I noticed that several other members of Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastic also have their own durable name tags, mostly from their church or other organization.  But the default option for the group was those single-use labels.

So, now that I’m on the PASUP steering committee, as we prepared to launch our next 90-day challenge, I volunteered to provide the name tags.

Making 50 name tags will cost you about $3.50 for a box of safety pins and about 20 minutes of work.  (I’m assuming you already have some markers and a hole-puncher.)  If you prefer not to use pins, the same money or less will buy string or yarn to hang name tags around necks.

The tag material is just thin cardboard, like the boxes from cereal or other foods or an umbrella I bought recently.  Choose something that’s sort of stiff but not too difficult to cut, with no printing on one side.  Here are the backs of some of the tags I made.

If you have access to a paper-cutter, that’s a much faster and easier way to cut paperboard–cutting it with scissors will make your hand ache!  But I’m pleased to say that my hand felt fine by the next morning.

The tags don’t have to be all the same size.  They don’t have to be all the same color on the name side.  They don’t have to have perfectly straight edges.  It will be okay.  And if a name tag accidentally turns around so that Danica gets called Couscous, that will be a good joke, or at least more fun than a pile of garbage.

This isn’t a new idea to me.  When I was a Girl Scout leader a decade ago, I always started the year by having the girls make name tags, as described in my big list of reusing ideas.  I remember making name tags at many of my childhood activities, but usually they were construction paper, which isn’t sturdy enough; cereal boxes are better as well as being free and green!

Yes, the energy and resources that go into manufacturing one safety pin are more than go into manufacturing one self-stick label.  But the safety pin is reusable for years, even decades!  So don’t throw it away after one use!


Cut and hole-punch the tags in advance. If you’re using slick-coated paperboard, like the boxes from some frozen foods, make sure to bring permanent markers.  If the blank side of the paperboard is porous, water-soluble markers will work just fine.

Set out the tags, markers, and safety pins and/or string.  People greeting the attendees should be wearing name tags and saying, “Please make a name tag,” so it’s obvious what these are for.

At the end of the meeting, announce that people are welcome to keep their name tags for reuse, but if they’re not going to keep them you’d like them to return the safety pins to the table.  Another option is to collect the name tags and bring them back for the next meeting.

I have stored the tags people asked me to bring back, along with the extra blank tags and safety pins, in a small paper bag with handles that was in pristine condition after a store gave it to me.  A small gift bag also could be repurposed this way.

If you’re hanging onto your own name tag for reuse, put it in your purse or your coat pocket or that bag you always take to meetings–someplace that travels with you so that you’re unlikely to forget to bring it.

Making and using plastic-free name tags from reused materials, instead of just doing the thing everybody else does, is one of those little decisions that seems weird and possibly difficult, but turns out to be easy and have advantages like not making a sticky bald spot on your fuzzy shirt!  I’ve lost count of how many of these little decisions I’ve made over the years, but there have been very few of them that didn’t turn into my “new normal” way of doing things.

Visit Hearth & Soul for more great tips!

6 thoughts on “Zero-Waste Name Tags

  1. Hi Becca, thanks for drawing attention to this problem. I wrote an article called “Sticker Shock” about how environmentally conscious groups should stop using vinyl stickers:

    A member of our zero waste group has an answer to the name tag issue. He has an engraved name tag pinned to his shirt at every event he attends, regardless if anyone else is wearing name tags. I thought it was funny at first but I’m coming around to owning a reusable name tag.

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