Updated: May 1
Why use something disposable if it cannot safely be disposed of?
PLASTIC PEN & THE PROBLEM
Plastic was a great invention but when it started being used in all products widely so it can be disposed of after one use started the entire problem for our Planet which has a deep impact on all of us!!
The ballpoint pen was a valuable invention that took a long time to come to fruition. It was applauded for its hassle-freeness and the ability it gave us to write on the go. The problem is its disposable nature because of its cheap price. Plastic pens are a part of the throw-away culture that we have been developing unknowingly over the last several years.
It is in our cars, drawers, bags, it is given away in airlines, hotels, conferences, and schools. It is disposable and it is not a big deal if you lost one because it is cheap.
Plastic is cheap but we need to remember it is made from petroleum and petroleum is a non-renewable resource. Plastic pens are very difficult to recycle and this facility is now available only in a select few countries.
TYPE OF PLASTIC USED
One-time use ballpoint pens are made of many parts which are different in material. The exterior barrel in most pens is made of an inferior and toxic type of plastic called Polystyrene.
Polystrene is a plastic resin made from a toxic chemical called Styrene. Styrene is considered one of the most 100 hazardous chemicals. It has very bad health effects on workers who are exposed to this chemical during manufacturing. The caps might be made of Polypropylene which is a safe plastic and recyclable but it is so small in size that it can potentially clog the regular recycling machines.
EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND US
Toxicity, In terms of causing plastic pollution, pens are just as bad as disposable plastic bags and straws. Despite this, billions get dumped each year. These pens are hard to recycle too.
In 1986, the EPA released a report that listed the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth-largest source of hazardous waste.
With these pens being so small, they easily escape the landfill to our oceans and contaminate our water and kill the marine life! It is obvious that it is going to affect our health from the seafood we consume!
Many children and adults have the bad habit of chewing on their pens, be aware what you are chewing on is toxic!
CAN PLASTIC PENS BE RECYCLED?
As these tiny objects are made of even more different types of tiny parts of different materials it makes recycling them very difficult. Moreover, not all parts of the pen are made of recyclable materials.
Companies like Terracycle in the US collect used pens, markers, highlighters, and even paint sets and flexible packing to recycle them. They are aiming to slowly replace plastic disposable products with durable material products that can be refilled. They are working with manufacturers to cater these services so we can achieve a circular economy.
This might take some time to be executed worldwide so why not be more conscious and switch to eco-friendly and reusable solutions right now.
5 EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS
There is an urgent need to create and use eco-friendly alternatives which can be safely disposed of, recycled, or reused.
What changes can we bring about?
My opinion is that there is not any particular solution for this problem that will suit us all. We all use pens for different purposes. Little older children these days study more online, Use Ipads with electronic pens or in some Schools they are advised to use only ballpoint pens on getting their pen license. So here are a few substitutes which we can use in a given situation based on the need and budgets.
Solution # 1 - Opt for a metal reusable pen
The best option is to search for reusable good quality metal pens. The market has always had many options. These options might be a little expensive, but if taken good care of and being responsible enough to not lose them, it can be a great investment and will eventually cost the same as using many one-time-use plastic pens.
Easy and smooth writing experience.
Looks classy and elegant
They are great for branding for corporates.
The Metal refills and the body are 100% recyclable and can be easily purchased from stationery shops or in online stores.
The bonus is it will reduce the trash going to the landfill and give you an amazing writing experience.
Exceptionally long lifespan.
Good Return on investment.
They can be slightly heavy while writing so need to get comfortable with them especially for students who use them for a longer duration.
The Refills might not be in stock, or the model may change.
Might be slightly heavy on the pocket if you tend to lose your pens often.
Solution # 2 – Fountain pens
Fountain pens can be a great option for students and adults. I still remember in my school days when we began writing with pens it was a norm and requirement in schools to carry at least 2 fountain pens that can be refilled with ink. They recommended this in order to help children improve and have legible smooth writing. These served us for so many years until the metal nib wasn’t worn out. This culture also made us kids more responsible for our belongings. However, with the plastic pen culture that has emerged lately, children and adults have become a bit irresponsible with valuing their pens as they can be replaced quickly with a new one! The trend now is that as soon as children get their pen license they are asked to use only ballpoint pens for easy writing, lets work to change this trend :)
Easy and smooth writing experience.
Exceptionally long lifespan.
100% recyclable metal body
Easy to refill and reuse
Looks classy and elegant
Exceptionally good return on your investment.
Gives beautiful and legible writing especially for kids who just start out writing with pens after their pen license.
They can be good for modern and faux calligraphy with the ability to make very fine lines.
Chances of leaking might ruin clothes. It might take little patience to use household remedies to remove them.
New brands for fountain pens have replaceable plastic cartridges to get rid of leakage issues and convenience. This does not serve the purpose as again these small refill cylinders may not be recyclable in your local recycling facility.
There are very few brands that are making great metal fountain pens that are 100% plastic-free but can be slightly heavy on the pocket if you do not want to invest so much in a pen.
Many Institutions and Banks do not permit using of ink pens to sign documents as they can be washed or tampered with.
Solution #3 - Plantable Recycled paper pens
If you are on a budget but want to reduce your plastic footprint then these pens are a great solution. They are made of 100% recycled paper and have seeds in a capsule at the end so at the end of their life instead of throwing them in the trash you can grow them into a beautiful plant.
Made of 100% recycled paper and compostable capsules at the end of the pencil.
Tungsten carbide ball and nickel silver tip give a smooth writing experience.
It has an edible capsule at the end of the pen that carries seeds of vegetables, fruits, or flowers! So once the ink runs out you can just plant the pen with the capsule embedded in soil to have a nice plant grow as you nurture it with love.
They serve as great gifts to any age group, be it children or adults.
This is a great way to reduce plastic along with being on a budget.
Corporates and educational institutions can include these in their gifts to encourage their employees or students to make conscious choices and reduce plastic pen pollution.
They are great for branding for businesses and corporates.
Encourages children and adults to grow plants and gives them fewer plastic alternatives to one-time use plastic pens.
Reduces plastic waste.
Good Return on investment.
The only refill is plastic so 85% less plastic than the standard one-time use pens.
Plastic refill. Refill may not be recyclable in your community so needs to be reused innovatively.
Solution#4 - Recycled plastic pen
Recycled plastic pens are made of 100% or less post-consumer plastics. That means they manufacture these pens with recycled plastic. So, in a way, the plastic which was thrown away was used to make pens.
Easy and smooth writing.
This contributes to less use of virgin plastic to manufacture pens.
If refills are available for that particular brand they can be reused for a long time reducing the plastic footprint.
At the end of their life, the problem is back when it comes to the disposal of the pens.
If your community does not have the facility to recycle pens you end up in the same situation.
If the pens end up in the landfill they are going to cause the same plastic pen pollution as in the case of any normal one-time use ballpoint pen.
Solution#5 - Pens made of Bioplastics
Bioplastics are a type of plastic that is manufactured from renewable sources like vegetable oils and starches. They look like plastics but cannot be mixed with plastic waste. It is important to check the labels to see the details of this plastic.
Pros: Are same as the recycled plastic pens.
At the end of their life mostly they cannot be composted in your backyard but they can only be composted in industrial composters.
The process of making bioplastics might be more energy-intensive and if the plant production required for manufacturing bioplastics is not by sustainable methods it does more harm than benefit to the environment.
Bioplastics are called so, even if they are made of only 20% plant-based material. Hence knowing what type of bioplastic it is and knowing the compostability criteria is very important if you want to choose a sustainable pen. This can get a bit complicated if you are not fully aware of the topic. To read more on bioplastics you can read it HERE.
To start with we simply must think, “is it required to use the pen?” Why not use pencils more often for regular use when it is not mandatory to use pens. Recycled or newspaper Pencils are a more sustainable option. They are made from used paper or paper that is recycled. What’s inside them is not lead but it is a mix of graphite and clay and completely safe to use and dispose of.
Governments in action
Government bodies in India such as The National Green Tribunal have mentioned that plastic pens fall under the category of Plastic Waste Management Rules and have directed the Environment Ministry to finalize the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) as it is not duly enforced. They are suggesting to implement a policy of 'buy back' so we can reduce more manufacturing of pens. As per their studies, 27 lakh pens are produced per day and it is not possible for the Local Bodies to collect and treat the waste as contemplated under the rules. They say the cost of refills is high so people prefer to buy new pens each time.
There is work going on to change policies and make changes at the source level but meantime if we can do our bit and mindfully choose what we buy or use will definitely go a long way and lead to big changes.
Stop accepting cheap quality free ballpoint pens at conferences and hotels. If we stop accepting them, people will not make them. Always carry your own sustainable pen.
If you are amongst companies who distributed such pens as gifts last year, think of more sustainable ideas.
Encourage children and young students to use more sustainable options. They can drive a huge change in our consumption habits.
Don’t throw away your pens in the trash as they will end up in the landfills to stay for ages!!
Don’t put one-time-use plastic pens in recycling bins unless you are assured that they will be recycled by the authorities. Instead, store it to reuse for art or any other purposes.
In my opinion, as we saw above the plastic used in these pens can be highly toxic to us humans and the environment so encouraging its use will only hamper the ecosystem even more.
http://www.earthresource.org/campaigns/capp/capp‐styrofoam.html [Accessed 2016‐07‐02].
Written & Compiled by Pallavi Santhapuram
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