You’ve Got (Eco-Friendly) Mail! Switching To New Eco-Friendly Mailers

In a previous post, Can Shopping and Shipping Online Be Eco-Friendly, I talked about the carbon-emissions side of shipping. But today it’s all about another concern — mailers.

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com

Counting Costs + Keeping Prices Low

As a small handmade business, I’m always counting. The price of a product isn’t just the materials. I count the materials, my time, packaging costs, shipping costs, accounting costs, business license costs, marketplace fees, web hosting fees, office supplies, and so much more. Keeping prices competitive and profitable is a tricky business in and of itself. And more so as I move toward more eco-friendly options rather than just low-cost items.

For example, organic fabric costs about $15.50-16 per yard, while quality cotton fabric of the same weight costs about $9.50-10 per yard. The bubble mailers I have used for a long time cost $24.50/case. Switching to a more eco-friendly bubble mailer costs $49.50 for the same amount. The bottom line, going green costs more money and that is tricky for small businesses with low margins. I don’t mean this as an excuse. Just to state a fact.

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
Working Lunch. The last time I was counting Etsy costs.

Holy Bubble Mailers, Batman

Mailers are important for online businesses. My primary job after making an item is making sure it gets to my customer safe and sound. So to be honest, when I started this business, my priority was to find quality mailers at bulk prices. I just wasn’t thinking about all the extra plastic I was sending into the world.

Last year, when my business kicked up during back-to-school shopping, I was struck with the realization that I was shipping a good deal of plastic out. Like wow!

Costs of doing business and small profit margins means eco-friendly packaging isn't always the easiest choice. A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
One day’s outgoing. Yay! And also oof!

But I’m not one to just shrug my shoulders. I started looking into alternatives. I found an awesome company called Eco Enclose that specializes in making eco-friendly packaging and they send FREE samples! So even though I still have nearly 100 mailers to work through, I ordered some samples to try out. That way, when I run out (I haven’t yet), I’d be ready to make an eco-friendly switch.

Mailer Testing

I sampled everything. I tried thick 100% recycled/recyclable/reusable cardboard and padded mailers but they were too heavy and increased shipping costs by a significant amount.

I tried a more thin 100% recycled/recyclable Kraft paper mailer but my tester kindly let me know the mailer arrived with a tear. So no.

I tried a 100% recycled/reusable/recyclable poly mailer but my products don’t fill it out and it felt too flimsy.

Finally, I tried a bubble mailer made from 32.6% post-industrial recycled content (51% recycled content in the outer layer, 8% recycled content in the bubble layer, and 8% recycled content in the capping layer). These can be recycled and have an extra adhesive strip to be reused! I’ve sampled all the sizes and found one that will work for most items. It is smaller than my preferred mailer size so I’ll have to fold things up more than I prefer, but what a small sacrifice for more peace-of-mind.

No, 32.6% recycled content is not perfect, but it’s better. And it’s honest. And although they cost twice as much for a smaller size, I know they are the right choice. This options blends my desire to waste less and get items to my customers safely and at a low cost. Eco Enclose is also actively working on increasing the recycled content of these mailers. Look out for these mailers coming from pen&thimble soon!

Pen&thimble is Rolling Out Green Packaging Soon!

So that’s the story about mailers. If you have questions, feel free to ask! I’m always open to tailoring the way you get your mail too! When making a purchase, you can always leave note like “no extra packaging please” and I’ll be happy to send you your items with minimal packaging! More on packaging inside the mailer in a future post.

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!

Confronting Composting Challenges

April is our get-back-on-track-with-composting month!!

We have the outside bin, we have the food waste, but we need a restart. So this is the perfect April #wastefreecurious challenge for us! Thanks to everyone who gave us suggestions on Instagram a few weeks ago! This was one of them and my husband and I both knew this had to be the one!

At the end of last summer, our bin became home to a bee colony. We ended up avoiding the thing because every time we (my husband) went near the bin, we (my husband) got stung. And we’re super Pavlovian like that. We tried to get a few bee people to our house to relocate the bees, but that didn’t work out. And our local farm CSA has composting so we had an alternative for the rest of the summer and fall, but we just sort of ended up out of the habit and stopped. Not for the first time.

We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit

OUR Compost Plan

We’ll check that the bees are gone, dump the contents of the bin in our yard debris pile, and start all over. Patrick feels pretty sure the bees are gone. So fingers crossed.

Past Compost Challenges

We haven’t done a very good job with composting in the past, to be honest. It has looked like a lot of starts and stops. But this will be our month to sort it all out. This month, we’ll be addressing these issues we’ve had in the past:

  1. Fruit flies attracted to the compost bucket in the kitchen. We’re going to try a new bucket or just make peace with fruit flies.
  2. Fragrant smell of food waste on the kitchen counter. Again, we’re trying a new bucket, but if that fails we will have to reframe that smell. “The sweet smell of waste reduction!”
  3. Our compost hasn’t really decomposed well in the past. We inherited our outside compost bin when we moved into our house 3 years ago. We assumed it was as simple as throwing food waste into the bin. It is NEARLY that simple, but in preparation for this challenge I did some research and learned there is more to it.
    • Our outside bin should be in the sun, not the completely shaded location it’s in now.
    • We need to stir it up once in a while.
    • The previous bin owners put a bunch of large sticks in there and they just won’t break down like leaves and food, so that’s why we’re dumping and starting over with a bottom layer of already decomposing leaves (yay yard clean-up!)
  4. We need to make it a system/habit. Like our previous paper towel and grocery bag challenges, for us the most important part of this challenge is just taking this month to focus our attention to make new habits and systems for composting.
We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

Our Composting Tools

  1. Compost Bin Outside
  2. Kitchen Compost Bucket
  3. Shovel To Stir Compost Down The Line

Backyard Composting Alternatives

You don’t need to have a big yard to better dispose of your own food waste. You don’t even need a yard at all!

  1. Vermicomposting – You can compost in an apartment kitchen or balcony or outside with worms and a bin.
  2. Many waste management companies collect food waste and compost in addition to trash and recycling.
  3. If you live near a farm, they may be happy to collect your compost. Something to look into!
  4. Meal plan so that you waste less food. I make a curry the same week I make quiche to make sure I use up all of our heavy cream and it doesn’t end up being dumped out!

Let’s Break It Down Together — The Food Waste, I Mean

Who composts already? Who is ready to try? Who is composting curious? Let me know! What could be more fun than talking about decomposing food garbage all month?

Shameless pen&thimble product PLug

And when it comes to wasting less when snacking is involved. Don’t forget to skip the plastic baggies and grab a reusable snack bag or a bundle and save! Eat it all or compost anything that remains and simply wash the bag when you’re finished! That’s easy no-waste snacking!

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. And you’ll get pen&thimble exclusive coupon codes — yay waste free products for less!

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!

We're addressing past issues we've had with composting. 1) Fruit flies, 2) Smell, 3) Waste not decomposing, 4) Making composting a habit

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. pen&thimble strives to be an online shop that values less waste behind the scenes as well as in product offerings.

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