Pens are a small, everyday item you might not think about recycling. But think about this: French pen manufacturer Bic sells 8.76 billion stationary items
(pens, pencils, markers, correction tools and paper products) every year. That is just one company! When you think about all the pen manufacturers out there, you can see why recycling pens seems more important.
You will not be able to place pens in your curbside recycling bin, but there are still avenues for recycling them. The key to recycling pens is to collect a whole bunch so you can cost-effectively mail them to recyclers. Given that pens do not take up a lot of space, there should be no problem for most people and businesses. Read on for more details and get ready to start recycling pens!
Why should you recycle pens?
The Centre for Advanced Microscopy
in the United Kingdom recently did a study to see how long pens last. They found that the average pen will write 6,207 signatures, 5,114 phone numbers, 971 Christmas cards or 169 letters. While most of us do not write a lot of letters these days, we are still likely to go through several pens every year (especially people who buy cheap pens that will not perform as well as the average writing instrument).
Most pens are made of plastic that will not biodegrade in landfills. In incinerators, plastic items give off toxic gases like dioxins. And even though pens are small, they can add up fast when you figure that billions of them are manufactured every single year.
The same is true of other writing utensils like mechanic pencils and markers. They are also made of plastic and add to the items occupying space in our landfills.
Recycling pens, mechanical pencils, markers and other writing utensils takes some work. However, all of these items can be recycled with the resources described below.
How to recycle pens
The easiest way to recycle pens is to send them to TerraCycle’s Writing Instrument Brigade
. The program is sponsored by pen manufacturers Sharpie and Paper Mate, so you can return all their products through the program. That includes pens and pen caps, highlighters, markers and mechanical pencils.
To participate in TerraCycle’s programs, you first have to sign up for the “brigade” on its website. After that you can start returning pens to it. The one sticking point is that your shipment must weigh at least five pounds, which means collecting about 350 pieces. You might want to enlist people at your child’s school or co-workers to help you get to that quantity faster.
Another possibility is to send your pens to PenGuyArt.com
. The website is run by an artist who uses all sorts of pens in his work. He will also take all kinds of pens: ball point, dry erase markers, markers, mechanical pencils and more. To recycle pens through PenGuyArt.com, you can send them by mail or FedEx to the address listed on the website.
Yale University, the University of California-Davis, the University of Pennsylvania and other universities have pen collection and recycling programs on campus. They send their pens to TerraCycle’s program, but this way you do not have to go through all the work of collecting and mailing them yourself.
There are a couple of programs to recycle marking pens. Crayola takes back their products through a program called ColorCycle
. To participate, pack your markers in a box, print a shipping label from the company’s website, and send them off via FedEx. Dixon Ticonderoga
also has a take-back program. People interested in participating can request a pre-paid shipping label from the company’s Dixon Recycle website. You will need to collect at least seven pounds of Dixon’s Prang markers (about 250) before you pack them in a box and ship them off to the company.
Reduce the number of pens you buy
Technology has greatly reduced the need for pens. You can make your shopping list on your phone, pay for items with a credit card rather than a check, and type emails instead of writing letters to friends. But since it has not completely eliminated the need for them, here are some ways to reduce the number of pens you buy or look for “greener” options.
When you do purchase pens, buy good-quality writing instruments that will last a long time. You can also buy refillable, reusable pens with disposable ink cartridges. Certain brands of ballpoint pens are manufactured so that you can remove the cartridge when the ink runs out and replace it with a new one. You can still buy fountain pens that take refillable cartridges.
If you prefer mechanical pencils to regular wood pencils, look for ones that can be restocked with lead when needed. Also, keep pink erasers or cap erasers around so you do not need to throw out your mechanical pencils once the eraser is gone.
Bic also manufactures a number of pens out of recycled materials
. Check out its list of products if you are looking to buy more eco-friendly pens. There are other pen manufacturers who use recycled materials in their products. You can find them online or at many office supply stores.
If you have pens that work but simply do not like, there are plenty of places to pawn them off rather than throwing them away. Send them to schools with your kids. See if a co-worker wants them, or add them to the pen jar in the copy room. Offer them for free to your friends, or see if a nonprofit can use them.