Every person who has ever used a pen may have lost the pen at one point in their life. The mysterious disappearance of the pen has always been an unsolved case for me. I would be writing with a brand new ballpen for a moment, and the next second puff…the pen disappears from my clutch like magic! I cannot even count how many pens I have lost in my life. However, losing a pen was never a burden to me. They are cheap, readily available and easy to borrow. Until I realized the disposing of a pen is not as easy as losing a pen.
Let’s dissect a pen first!
The outer barrel of the pen is made up of polystyrene – an inexpensive and hard plastic. Polystyrene is generally used as an outer cover for its transparency as users can see how much ink remains in the tube. However, this type of plastic is not easily recyclable. I doubt whether they got recycled at all. They are mostly dumped and take at least 500 years to decompose.
The ink tube and cap of the pen are made up of another plastic called polypropylene. Its impact resistance plays a huge role in the longevity of a pen. Unlike polystyrene, polypropylene is easy to recycle. But, propylene has the same fate as polystyrene: they mostly end up in a landfill site or the Marine life. This can be attributed to the carelessness and extra effort that is required to recycle a pen.
Plastic isn’t the only raw materials used in a pen. Though used in small amounts, metal is an essential part of any typical ballpen. The tip of the ballpoint is made up of brass which is an alloy of zinc and copper.
Copper mining has its own dark side. It contributes to one of the largest climate threats and water pollution due to acidic leaching. It severely affects land, forest, and air of the surrounding ecosystem.
Does this mean we should stop using a pen? NO! The light-weighted, easy to carry machines are one of the most underrated inventions of humankind. The subtle engineering approach of the pen has made our life so much easier. Rich or poor, anyone can buy a pen.
One may argue the biodegradable pencils are much better. However, pencils aren’t the environmental prize either. Every year, thousands of trees are cut down to make pencils. Furthermore, for daily work, the pen is much easier and long-lasting than a pencil.
The solution may lie within the pen itself as the durability of plastic has its both advantages and disadvantages. Pen companies should adopt a circular economy model: rather than the whole pen, manufacturers should start maximizing the production of ink refills. Once used up, consumers can refill their ink tube or exchange it for a new tube. This will also minimize the cost of the pen for users and production cost for the companies.
These days, bamboo and recycled paper pens are also on the trend. The unrecyclable outer barrel of the pen is mostly made by more sustainable alternatives.
We start as pencil users, who can readily erase the mistakes that we have made. Once we start using pens, it symbolizes our maturity. The error made from a pen isn’t easy to hide and always leaves a mark behind. Similarly, every pen leaves a footprint on the environment that is not easy to erase. Yet, we scribble with the same pen that plastic pollution is bad for the environment.
The value of a pen only doesn’t lie in its cost, but the impact it may cause for the next hundred years. Problem is not just limited within products. It’s rooted in our behaviours. So, can we demand eco-friendly writing options? You lost your pen, now, will you buy a pen or a refill?