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

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?

The Preposterous Paper Towel Ban

My Challenge to Stop Using Paper Towels Completely

My husband isn’t convinced that we can go fully paper towel free. And I’m not sure either, but we’re going for it. We started yesterday and hit bumps already. “Ah! What do I place over the food in the microwave?” When making a salad for lunch, I reached for my paper towel roll… but it was gone! (They’re easily findable under the sink, but don’t tell!)

As you may or may not know, I’m kicking up my dedication to wasting less around the house in 2019. We have come a long way already, but I think we can go further.

blue panda cloth napkin by pen&thimble

The Current Waste State of The Freemans, Who Have Come So Far

Why Do We Have So Much Plastic?

This is just one partially empty cupboard

Holy crap, we have more plastic containers, cups, plates, and bowls than I imagined possible for one family to own. And it’s somehow mostly for the kids. Did you all get the KIDS NEED ALL THE PLASTIC CONTAINERS AND SNACK CUPS memo too, or was it just me? Anyway, I feel like I’m coming out of a kind of fog as my youngest child is approaching 4 and I’m like, “Why do we have TWO full cabinets dedicated to plastic-ware for kids?” During some long stretch of desperation I clearly bought into the idea that kids’ plasticware would solve all my problems. Yuck. Spoiler alert: that stuff didn’t solve anything.

Oh, Look More Plastic!

In addition to all the kid-containers, we have a normal amount of plastic food storage containers and plastic baggies for freezing foods. I think my husband is still using plastic baggies to take food to work because I see a box in our plastic bag drawer, but I stopped using those completely in 2017 maybe? I use my pen&thimble snack bags for dry snacks (for me and the kids) and these Stashers brand for wet snacks now.

No Paper Plates or Napkins

2007 is probably when we realized that we were buying paper plates but had regular plates in our cupboards at no extra cost. Sadly, our lack of paper plates means I can’t do any of the hundreds of paper plate crafts on Pinterest with the kids. Aaaand I’m OK with that.

We stopped using paper napkins years ago, but we first replaced them with pieces of paper towel (same diff) and then we switched to pen&thimble napkins (shameless plug again, but seriously this is what we use).

Reusable Stuff

We have a healthy amount of travel mugs, water bottles, and stainless steel straws. I could do a better job of having a coffee mug handy for those unexpected trips to the coffee shop. But that will be my challenge for another time.

We don’t buy bottled water and have one of those water filter pitchers that I read recently are awful too. But I don’t remember why or what I’m supposed to do instead. I’m taking it one step at a time over here.

We love stainless steel straws (and smoothies)!

When the last of our paper straws ran out last year, I switched to these stainless steel straws and we USUALLY use them when we’re out-and-about too. If we don’t have them handy, we don’t use straws. But my kids are still learning how to drink like humans and I have sensitive teeth, so I try to bring our own straws. The straws I purchased from Amazon come in two sizes (short cups and tall) and two shapes (slight bend and straight) Why the switch? I saw a video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw tweezed from its bleeding nostril and it was enough for me to swear off plastic straws.

Back To The Paper Towel Ban

But we still use paper towels and I want to stop. My husband, who does the shopping and restocking, says we use one roll in about 2 months or so, which is greatly reduced use for us, but I’m ready to go ALL THE WAY paper towel free.

Paper Towel Alternatives:

We have a crap-ton of kitchen linens and cleaning cloths that I’ve made and collected over the years — tea towels, dish rags, cloth diapers. A nearly-endless supply, really.

The Plan:

Hide the paper towels and stop using them.

Use washing machine when our nearly-endless supply of cleaning linens start to disappear.

Develop our system. The hardest part about a new habit for me is making a new system. Everything seems so much harder when you have to think about what to do next. Especially when the alternative is SO CONVENIENT! We already have a wet bag hanging on one of the cupboards for used/dirty napkins and kitchen towels. I’m thinking we’re going to need a bigger bag. Someone on Instagram who is already a few steps ahead of me on going paper towel free, said that she has a reusable shopping bag under the sink that her family fills with kitchen linens as they are used. We will probably start doing the same. Thanks for the tips, people! Keep them coming!

So Let’s Do This!

I’ll be back here on the blog at the end of the month to share how our Paper Towel Ban went. I’ll also be sharing how things are going in real time with the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram. Did you know you can follow hashtags? You can! So definitely let’s connect there and you’ll be one of the first to use the hashtag. I would like this tag to be a no-judgement zone for people in all the stages of waste-free life — pros, newbies, and the curious who don’t know where to start. I’m somewhere between newbie and curious-but-don’t-know-where-to-start.

My Challenge to Stop Using Paper Towels Completely