Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

I don’t create for the sake of adding more things to a thing-filled world, but to encourage eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics and disposable culture. I think of what I do as making tools — bright, fun, and durable tools. But the creating is only part of the story. As creating inevitably leaves me with leftover fabric… a.k.a. textile waste.

Did you know that 16 million tons of textiles was generated in 2015? 2.5 million tons were recycled and 10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015. (EPA.gov) Stop and think about that. That’s a lot of clothes, linens, curtains, shoes, old teddy bears, and accessories hanging out in garbage mounds.

Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

It’s not lost on me that my own business — that’s all about creating eco-friendly products for the whole family — is simultaneously creating textile waste. But did you know pen&thimble fabric scraps have a more sustainable path?

First of all, I make very efficient cuts to eliminate fabric waste. My scraps are small so I can use more of the fabric to create useful items. I think less waste is a bright idea behind the scenes too! Secondly, my fabric scraps don’t end up in the trash bin.

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

So Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

Did you know that you can recycle your clothing, shoes, linens, old stuffies, and fabric scraps? I don’t mean just dropping off your clothes to your local thrift shop. Those socks that you just can’t mend anymore don’t have to be thrown away!

Locally, I take our textiles and my fabric scraps to a collection box that goes to baystatetextiles.com. Bay State Textiles sorts their textile donations into categories including: 1) reusable clothing for export, 2) fabric that can be cut into wiping rags to be resold to companies in the US to keep machinery and plants clean, and 3) small fabric scraps (like mine) are sent to US fiber mills to be ground down and made into new material.

How cool is that? Find out where you can donate your textiles the next time you are KonMari’ing your life or wondering what to do with the tiny scraps from your own hand making business or craft project. It’s as easy as googling “textile donation bins near me.”

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?
That was easy!

Waste-free! Sustainable! Reusable! Green! Are buzzwords these days, but make sure the businesses using them are taking steps behind the scenes to live up to those words too. I know first hand that many small and handmade businesses don’t have the overhead to do it all 100% green. But this is one important step that costs nothing and is doable.

10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in US landfills in 2015, according to epa.com. Ask Small and Handmade Businesses: Where Does All That Fabric Waste Go?

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

Can Online Shopping and Shipping Be Eco-Friendly?

I’m an online shop that creates products to support a waste free lifestyle. But I can’t ignore the big baddie in e-commerce — carbon emissions created when shipping packages all over the US and the world. I’ve shipped eco-friendly products and gifts to Australia, Singapore, The Netherlands, Germany, St. Thomas and more in 2018 alone! So yeah, carbon emissions are happening.

Photo by Christian Stahl on Unsplash

Is It Worth It — Buying Eco-Friendly Products Online?

I think this is a personal question that only you have the answer to. I personally think it is awesome that I can ship reusable snack bags to Singapore. I think it is amazing that someone recognized the quality and my mission and loved the prints enough to say, it’s worth it.

And I imagine my items also make it to someone’s cart and they think, “Hey, that’s a pretty far distance to travel. Maybe I can find something local.” And I love that choice too!

Can I Shop Online and Still Be Eco-Friendly?

Some people say no way. Some people say any shopping at all is not eco-friendly. Those items in Target were shipped a few times before they ended up being “local” to you.

I say, there are ways to make great choices. I’ve outlined just a few things to consider below.

Choose Companies That Offer Carbon Emissions Offsetting

Etsy recently announced that they are offsetting 100% of carbon emissions. Yes, it brings up a lot of questions. How do they calculate how much the CO emissions are for a sent package? Who exactly are they donating to? But it is something and appears to be a responsible step in the right direction. Planting trees and supporting wind and solar power is awesome. And while it may be debatable that these steps actually offset carbon emissions, these steps are applaudable and better than doing nothing.

Ask About Packaging or Request Less Packaging

I once received an order and the buyer requested that I didn’t ship with any extra plastic packaging. Aside from my mailers (which are going green very soon!), I don’t use any plastic bags to wrap or ship my products. But even still, I skipped some of the packaging extras I like to include to respect my customer’s wishes for minimal packaging. I was absolutely happy to!

Not sure how a business packages their items? Ask! You may not always get the answer you want – or an answer at all – but good businesses are always striving to know what their customers want!

Is the E-Commerce Shop Local? Skip Shipping and Pick Up Your Items

When I started my business I was a primarily local business. And although the transactions occurred online, my customers picked up their items or we scheduled to meet up locally. See if your favorite online shops are local and offer that option!

I’ve done the same with an online shop (ittikid.com – omg! cute organic kids’ clothes) that is run locally. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask if local pickup is an option!

Check Into Behind-The-Scenes Policies

Buying handmade products is already an awesome idea. You know in most cases who is making the products and don’t have to worry about child labor, low wages, non-existent customer service. For example, I’m doing it all at pen&thimble – making, wrapping, shipping, all of it.

But if you’re curious to know more. Ask!

“After you make this adorable reusable snack bag, where do your fabric scraps end up?”

“Do you have organic options?”

“Where do you source your gemstones?”

Again, you may not always get an answer, but it’s good to ask and support businesses with similar values to yours!

Is There a Mission Beyond Making and Shipping Items?

For me, this business is not just about the products I make. It isn’t just about making money and shipping products.

It’s about these #wastefreecurious challenges. It’s about making waste free decisions in my personal and business life and inspiring others to waste less too. My desire to reduce waste inspires my products as much as my products inspire me to find new ways to curb my waste even more.

Other missions may have equal value to you. There are shops that donate to causes and volunteer their time!

Shipping Has A Big Impact, And So Do Your Choices

If you want to shop online, I say go for it! I do and my business relies on online shoppers. But you have choices. Choose to purchase from companies that offer minimal to no packaging, recyclable mailers, ethical practices behind the scenes — for things like waste, sourcing materials, and making. Shop from stores with missions that are in line with your values.

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

Can Online Shopping and Shipping Be Eco-Friendly? YOU can make it more so! #ecofriendlyliving #wastefreecurious #carbonemissionsoffsetting #penandthimble #sustainableshopping

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went

Going paper towel free in January was struggle city. So we expected this February challenge to use only reusable shopping bags NO MATTER WHAT to be tough and full of missteps. But we were determined to succeed. And I’m thrilled to announce that WE DID IT! Yayyyy!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
A very deceptive photo making it look like I do the shopping. I don’t usually. According to social media, I may be one of the only people who isn’t super into Target.

We Made Reusable Bags A Habit

Okay, so I say WE did it, but my husband does most of the shopping so he really embraced this challenge and DID IT! The trick was just making sure to get those bags back in the car after we put the groceries away. But after a month of making sure, I’m happy to say this is a habit now and we aren’t going back!

We had one near-oopsie that I shared on Instagram. I sent Patrick on an unexpected after-work stop to our local farmer’s market to grab some homemade soup (and potato chips) for me because I had a super bad cold. He didn’t have bags in the car this time but he still refused the bag and carried two hot soups and a bag of chips in his hands (and under his arm). A true hero to a sick wife and the Earth!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
And while you’re at it, don’t forget your reusable produce bags or just skip those plastic produce bags. You can still weigh a good number of loose apples! I’ve tested it for you!

So that’s that. This month was easy thanks to dedicated focus and accountability to you! We will continue to have our no excuses stance when it comes to shopping bags.

Waste-less E-Commerce

Next month, I’m focusing on how to waste less in my primarily e-commerce business. This one will be about balance, goals, and highlighting some of the steps I already take to reduce waste in pen&thimble.

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com

Convenience vs. Waste Free

I rely on convenience, schedules, and habits to carry me through exhausting days and busy weeks. And as I’m making more of an effort to reduce my waste, I find that even the smallest waste-free step can challenge convenience, my habits, and my schedule.⠀

When I come up against the battle between convenience and my waste reduction goals I could just say, “I don’t have time for this!” And I would be right. But I also want to make time for this. So I’m starting to turn each defeated “what can I do” moment into a better question…⠀

How can I make less waste more convenient?⠀

I can put paper towels under the sink in the cabinet with the baby lock, so the only time I use them is mindfully. I can have my cloth towels and kitchen rags handy so it’s a no-brainer to use them. I can put our reusable grocery bags in the trunks of both of our cars right after we put the groceries away. I can have enough reusable sandwich and snack baggies available for the week. I can make quality handmade products that encourage less waste for other families on a similar journey. ⠀

Truth: Convenience makes waste. I want convenience and less waste. So the question is: How can I make less waste more convenient?

Making the decision to waste less has meant taking the time up front to create new systems, new habits, and to research the best waste-free methods or tools for my family. But from that initial convenience-disrupting work has come a new convenience that keeps me going through those tired, busy, brain fatigued days… while I make less waste!

What is your biggest convenience vs waste challenge? How can you make less waste more convenient?