What do you do when you’ve finished with a used ink pen – toss it in the trash? Probably, because that’s what we all do. It’s about the only thing you can do with an old pen.
Complete pens can’t go into normal plastic recycling bins because they contain bits of metal, as well as the remainder of the ink. The barrels themselves are typically “Type 5 recyclable plastic,” according to Pilot, but all metal components and the refills have to be removed before recycling. So how do you actually recycle your old ink pens?.
Even if you disassembled every pen you use, you would still be left with a pile of clips, plungers, springs, barrel rings, screw-on tips, and refills. So, where does that leave the rest of us who use disposable, or even refillable, pens? There are a few choices.
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1. Terracycle Recycling
One is a company called Terracycle, which has what it calls Writing Instruments Brigades. The way it works is that groups sign up, collect used pens, pencils, markers, etc. and send them into Terracycle. The company says it can remake them into everything from park benches to trashcans. Each brigade gets points for collecting the used pens, and those points can be redeemed for charitable donations to non-profits and schools.
Unfortunately, there are no open brigade slots in the US right now, so you would have to join the waiting list. However, Terracycle and Bic recently announced a UK partnership to collect used pens. So far, they’ve taken in more than 100,000 writing instruments and have slots open for 77 more brigades, according to the website.
Other than that, there aren’t a whole lot of other options.
2. World Environmental Organization
The World Environmental Organization recommends disassembling pens and using the various parts for, among other things, making birdcage perches, allowing older children to play with them as toys, and turning them into homemade decorations.
Yeah, not terribly helpful.
3. The Pen Guy
Of course, you could always send your used pens to Costas Schuler, otherwise known as The Pen Guy. He has collected more than 10,000 used pens as an art project that covers his 1981 Mercedes 300SD. And he’s still collecting, hoping to end up with more than 1 MILLION pens to use for giant murals.
4. Green Worms Waste Management Venture
In India students from over 25 schools collected over a tonne of used ballpoint pens and handed them over to Green Worms. a waste management venture in Kozhikode, to be recycled. This is a great idea and perhaps other countries could follow suit and set up similar projects.
5. Dong Yufei Chinese Student
A student in China has even started collecting empty ink pen refills in an attempt to keep them from ending up in landfills.
Dong Yufei told China Daily:
He came up with the idea after he took the college entrance examinations last June. He noticed that many students, himself included, just threw away empty refills after the examinations.
He made a quick calculation.
“I would chuck away about 100 refills each year if I used up one in three days. The several thousand students in my school would consume hundreds of thousands in a year. Then how about our city, or our province?”
He learned that refills contain pollutants including volatile substances, ink and plastics that cannot fully break down if not recycled.
“Without recycling, numberless waste refills will cause great pollution,” said Dong, who decided to collect enough of them so that at least the plastic refill tubes could be recycled.
The only problem is, now he has more than 150,000 refills – and nothing to do with them. The recycling factories he’s approached have turned him down. And an experiment to remove the ink from each refill with a needle failed.
6. Can You Recycle Pens?
A lot of people ask the question can you recycle pens? A few years ago The Sustainable Attorney highlighted the difficulty of recycling pens. “Pens, highlighters, and markers are difficult to recycle because they are small and constructed of various metals, plastics, and chemicals. It may seem like a small amount of waste but it adds up. According to Green Seal’s Choose Green Report published in January 1998, “every year Americans discard 1.6 million pens. Placed end to end, they would stretch 151 miles — equivalent to crossing the state of Rhode Island almost 4 times!”
What are the options?
1. Reduce the number of pens used. In other words, don’t lose your pens, don’t leave the lid off your marker, and write with them until the very last drop.
2. Buy reuseable, refillable pens rather than disposable pens.
3. Recycle the component parts. I suppose it is technically possible to disassemble each pen and separately recycle the metal and plastic. This extremely time-consuming process would likely still result in certain parts such as the used pen cartridge ending up in the landfill.
4. Upcycle the pens by creating interesting artwork or by covering your car. There is a small blue recycling bin in my office where my co-workers can place their used pens. I’m not exactly sure what we are going to do with the pens yet but I’m confident we will have a recycler or upcycle before the bin is full.”
Maybe along the way, they’ll figure out a feasible method for reusing old ink pens.
Until then, you can try sending pens to some of the collectors mentioned above…or just store them in a big bin in the garage until something better comes along.
7. Environmentally Friendly Pen Options
As you can see it is very difficult to recycle pens so we can all do a bit more by exploring other options to reduce the impact that our pens have on the environment. There are a few different options available to us and these include buying non-disposable pens, using refills and buying pens that are more eco-friendly that are manufactured from recycled materials.
7.1 Fountain Pens
One of the best options to reduce the number of pens that are going to landfill is to use a pen that can be refilled as opposed to being thrown away when it runs out of ink. Pen refills are available for some pens but can be difficult to find.
On the other hand, using a fountain pen is a really eco-friendly way of writing. There are loads of different fountain pens available with a wide choice of nibs that affect how they write, and hundreds of different ink colors. So there is no need to stick to boring black or blue ink. If you are unsure which fountain pen to choose then read our tutorial The Beginners Guide to Fountain Pens. It has some great advice and will put you on the right track to get started.
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7.2 Pilot Begreen Recycled Pens
Pilot Begreen Pens are made from at least 70% recycled plastic and they are committed to keeping the price the same as a pen that is not made from recycled materials even though the production costs are higher.
They state that if all the pens produced in Europe were made from recycled materials then it would save 78,000 tonnes of plastic a year. Imagine how much more this figure would be if this was adopted by the U.S and the rest of the world.
So If you buy pens that are more environmentally and do your bit for the environment then switch to the Pilot Begreen range of Pens.
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7.3 Close The Loop Enviroliner Pens
According to their website Close the Loop provides sustainability solutions to help companies with their corporate social responsibility programs. In plain English basically, they help companies to recycle their products,
As part of their program, they have developed an environmentally friendly pen that is made from empty ink cartridges. Its plastic body is made from 100% recycled ink cartridges and the clever bit is that they use the old ink from the cartridge. The ink from an inkjet cartridge is completely different from the ink of a traditional pen. However, Close the Loop uses secret nontoxic additives so that it writes like a normal pen.
Close the Loop has branches in the US Europe Australia and New Zealand although it looks as though the pens are only available on their Australian website.
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12 thoughts on “How Do You Recycle Ink Pens?”
The Pen Guy is no longer accepting pens. Same for Terracycle. I teach and am looking for another option for myself, as well as my students and co-workers. Thank you!
I think if we want to resolve this problem we should send all our empty pen cartridges to the white house with a letter stating our concerns about this issue and maybe someone in congress can find a solution.
Please stop suggesting that people “Up Cycle” anything. “Up Cycling” only temporarily repurposes an infinitessimally small amount of waste . Suggesting “Up Cycling” has the negative effect of encouraging the fantasy that it is a solution or even part of the solution to this vast problem. It’s a feel good suggestion that takes the pressure off of the manufacturers to build actual recycling into their products. “Up Cycling” only delays briefly the ultimate disposal of plastic and metals in landfills and oceans. It also encourages the consumption of more materials (usually adhesives) to put all that junk together into questionable home and art projects.
Pens with caps – like disposable bic pens – can be used by hobbyist model builders as structural connectors;
Say you’ve got parts that go on a model you’ve built, but you want to take them off to save space while in storage. Instead of bolting or gluing it all together, you can use pens and their caps as the connectors – just snap the bit holding the caps with on the bit holding the caps, and it’s on. Then, when it’s time to break it up again, just pull it off.
better yet, alternate between pens and caps for greater strength in order to prevent lateral movement from dislodging the caps, so that only pulling it perpendicularly to the model would work.
I love pens, but nowdays I walk into a stationary shop and see rows upon rows of colorful disposable pens and all I can think of is, “Look at all that future rubbish!” No matter how cool or cute a pen looks, I won’t buy it if it’s not refillable. Another annoying thing is refills with lots of fancy/uneccesary packaging (ie. waste) which kinda beats the purpose of buying a refillable pen. I hope people will seriously think about waste reduction in this area.
The silly thing about the world is that the adoption of throwaway pens took off so rapidly after the 60’s that there is no way we can salvage all that lost material in landfills.
Aside from the toxins, the enormous amount of energy gone in making those items is the cause of many of today’s problems. Oh how I wish those rational and sensible one of us continue to think twice about the concept of recycling. You can adopt the 3rd world’s idea of reusing a bottle as opposed to the idea of breaking all that glass then remaking another one out of it — the energy cost can be quite large.
Thanks cor the post i now have a new site http://www.penguyart.com
It is a problem – I try to stick to my fountain pens and this is one reason, refill, reuse….
My neighbour uses the plastic bodies of pens on (I presume) string to scare the birds off of his vegetable patch but I know of no other real life use for the pen bodies, as for the nib sections and other bits and bobs, I have to hope that someday they are more widely recycled or alternative materials can be used.
Great thought-provoking article.
If you can use the my ink pens Pen Guy, let me know please . Hank Rogers in Chicago, Il.
Thank you for adding my Mercedes Pens Art Car as an option to dealing with old used pens.
The Pen Guy
6484 Mirabel Road #994
Forestville, CA 95436
Great article! We continue to save our pens even though right now we have no real option for recycling them. We will patiently wait for TerraCycle to send us a pen brigade invitation. Although I do not think the pen brigade is a permanent fix, it can certainly transition us to where we need to be – an office that only uses refillable, non-disposable pens.
I can’t recall the last time I bought an ink cartridge pack as I refill the used ones with a syringe. The Terracycle idea sounds great, though 🙂