The 6 best eco-friendly pens of 2021
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More cities and states are passing laws banning plastic bags and straws, but rarely do we think about the effects of the ink stick. Most of us own too many of these, even if it feels like you can never find one when you need it. Almost none of these pens are recyclable as they are made from a combination of different types of plastic, metal, and ink. A lot of them end up in the landfill … and in that strange place in your car that is out of reach right now. Those who don’t make it to the landfill eventually become part of the microplastic problem and pollute our oceans and lands.
But the tide is starting to change. Companies have heard calls for environmentally friendly alternatives to the typical plastic rollerball, gel or ballpoint pens. You can find pens made from alternative materials like cork, wheat, or corn. Other pens at least prevent the creation of new plastic by making them from post-consumer recycled plastic or cardboard waste. Refillable fountain pens reduce plastic waste as you can either refill the ink or just replace the internal ink cartridge. Because pen preferences are so personal and vary from person to person, you will likely need to try more than one to find just the right glide, grip, weight, and feel for you.
While none of them are completely sustainable in the market today, here are some of the greenest pens to consider next time you’re in the market for a new writing instrument.
While no pen is entirely eco-friendly, there are a number of options worth trying that will help you break the habit of disposable plastic pens. Since you can never find a pen if you’re looking for one, consider a pack of 100 Simply Genius eco-friendly retractable pens (Walmart view) made from recycled cardboard for distribution in your home, school and office. Then choose some fun Seltzer Seven Year Pens (view at Give Simple) to refill and keep forever, and a quality fountain pen or two to keep them in high-traffic areas like your desk where you are unlikely to lose them.
What to look for in eco-friendly pens
Disposable, refillable or well?
Perhaps the first characteristic to consider when choosing your pen is whether it is a disposable, refill, or fountain pen. Conventional fountain pens have a built-in reservoir that can be opened and filled with ink from a bottle. Some modern fountain pens are designed so that you either refill the bladder with ink or swap out a cartridge to avoid dealing with loose ink. Refillable pens generally have a reusable outer shell and you purchase separate inner parts that contain the ink and nib.
Fountain pens with a reservoir that can be refilled from an ink bottle are better for the environment because buying them only wastes the packaging and container for refilling the ink. Many ink tanks are made of recyclable plastic or glass. The other environmental impacts to consider are the materials used to make the pen and the amount of energy used to make it.
A refillable pen might also be a good choice, but be careful what the disposable part of the pen is made of. Try to choose refills made from non-plastic material, or if made from plastic then a recycled plastic would be more environmentally friendly.
You may think that you should never use a disposable pen. However, some find that they don’t like handling the ink lead of a fountain pen. It can discolour, spill, or leak. Refillable pens also have their downsides. If you have a tendency to lose refills or are bad at purchasing, you may end up with standard plastic disposables. Some believe that using eco-friendly disposable pens is worthwhile if they help you develop new habits so that you can move away from plastic-based pens permanently.
Some eco-friendly pens are still considered disposable. This is because they are made from sustainably produced, biodegradable or recycled materials. Pens made from fast-growing bamboo or agricultural waste, corn or wheat are considered sustainable and biodegradable. You can also find pens made from recycled plastic bottles and recycled cardboard in the market.
Pay attention to what material each part of the pen is made of. Some use a combination of recycled, recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable materials with or without metal and plastic. Most refill and fountain pens are still made from standard plastic, metal, and other materials, and their environmental friendliness is limited to being refillable either with cartridges or from an ink bottle.
All about ink
It’s pretty easy to get down the rabbit hole researching inks. If you read reviews, you will find that customers mention whether an ink “glides well”. To slide, the ink needs to be just the right thickness to flow out smoothly and evenly so you don’t have to write over and without overflowing, clumping or clogging.
Ink manufacturers have used a variety of chemicals to accomplish this feat over the years. These chemicals can be pigments that create the permanent color, carriers that keep the pigment in a liquid, flowing form, and additives that, for example, extend shelf life or prevent clumping.
Early inks used petroleum-based solvents as carriers, which made up about 70 percent by volume of the ink. These solvents are poisonous during manufacture. More recently, the toxic solvents have been replaced by soy or other vegetable carriers or water. These newer airlines are much more sustainable and healthier for workers and our air quality.
The pigments themselves haven’t changed much over the years. When researching pigments, many focus on how long the pigments last without fading or decomposing.
So look for the mention of soy-, vegetable-, or water-based ink on the label or product description. A Soy Seal label ensures that the ink contains between 6% and 40% soy.
frequently asked Questions
Can I recycle conventional pens?
Conventional pens are usually not accepted in your recycling. This is because they are all made differently and are usually made from a combination of several types of metal and plastic and contain ink residue at the same time.
but The Zero Waste Box from Terracycle offers an easy-to-use recycle-by-mail solution. Recycle pens and pen caps, press and wooden pens, marker and marker caps, permanent marker and permanent marker caps in one box. The collected waste is separated mechanically and / or manually. Metals are melted so that they can be recycled. The plastics are extruded and granulated to be molded into new recycled plastic products. Even the small box is quite large, however, so you might get together with friends or family to fill a box or ask if they already have one. Many schools and businesses use this recycling system so you might be able to add yours there too.
Are pencils more sustainable than ballpoint pens?
Unless you use eco-friendly pens, most are made from basswood that is grown and harvested in China. Although made from trees, basswood grows relatively quickly, about two feet per year, and can reach heights of 20 to 30 feet in less than 20 years. Graphite for pencil leads is also mined in China.
Much more energy is used to make a pen, the plastic of which is made from petroleum and often contains metal that is broken down and melted in various places.
If you’ve ever sharpened your pencil into a nub, you know that pens generally last longer than pencils. But most pencils are compostable too if you remove the metal that was used to hold an eraser in place.
Overall, the average pencil is “more sustainable” than the average disposable pencil. But many types of environmentally friendly pens and pencils are available today, and many at comparable prices. So if you can, go for the eco-friendly option and use your pen or pencil to cross this off your list.
Are refillable pens environmentally friendly?
The short answer is: his relative. Refillable pens are not as sustainable as pencils or fountain pens. But they are certainly a better choice than your typical disposable plastic pen.
Refillable pens allow you to replace the inner ink cartridge, usually the ballpoint pen or other nib as well. So when you run out of ink and buy and use a refill, you’re only throwing about half of the pen in the landfill (the inside). If you choose a high quality refillable pen, the outer part can last for many decades, even if refills are available for the life of the pen.
If you haven’t already, try a fountain pen. You can always use refill packs or environmentally friendly disposables if they are not suitable for you.
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Lorraine Wilde tries to learn as much as possible about the latest in environmental science, technology, health, and conservation. She prides itself on helping consumers make healthy, informed, and environmentally conscious choices to protect their families and our planet. She also has a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and uses that education to define her consumer choices for one product at a time.