Have a think about how many pens you have at home, in your bag, your pockets? 10? 20? 50? Multiply this number by billions of people, and that’s a lot of pens being used, lost or thrown away – these runaway pens pollute our streams, oceans, verges. Now consider the number of pen lids that are detached, lost and littered doing the same damage to our environment, endangering wildlife, fish and birds who ingest them mistaking them for food. All in all, pens come with a pretty hefty environmental footprint.
When thinking of one-use plastic in our environment, it is generally agreed that plastic straws and carrier bags are the prime culprits for being unnecessarily wasteful, but it is only recently that manufacturers have addressed the lowly pen and started to introduce a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative into the market. It is a product line that by no means is perfect at present, and new pens are hitting the market regularly now. Ink inserts continue to be tricky to recycle, with the ink left in the insert contaminating soil and water; fountain pens, although reusable, use metal for their nibs, which can be less than eco to obtain; packaging of eco-pens still contains plastic.
The run-of-the-mill BIC (for example) have plastic bodies that are not usually recyclable, the pen caps are not recyclable and little thought is taken when disposing of them when these plastics take hundreds of years to decompose.
So what can be done?
How to minimise the individual and business impact without resorting to giving up handwriting altogether and relying solely on a keyboard or touch screen?
We spoke to Consortium Early Years, a business on a clear sustainability pathway, with the aim to come up with a workable plan to reduce impact, whilst being able to purchase useable pens to meet business needs.
Inspired by this challenge, the Consortium have developed a new product, ‘the Earth Pen’. This innovative pen uses no single-use plastic and the biodegradable parts (cap, barrel, end closure) will compost in approximately 6-9 months. The inserts will need to be recycled separately.
What to do with your existing pens?
Hopefully, there is a system for collecting old pens and lids at your workplace (for any brand of pen, felt tip, highlighter, marker, correction fluid pot, correction tape, mechanical pencil, and eraser pen); this could be as simple as having a designated box in the office or located at the front desk. Once the box is full, these can be dropped off at the nearest BIC Community Champion, partners of the TerraCycle Writing Instruments Recycling Programme; the writing instruments are separated by material composition, cleaned, and melted into hard plastic that can be remoulded to make new recycled products.
Currently, the programme is full with 736 participating locations nationwide, find your nearest location here.