Day 11 Zero waste Challenge | Zero Waste Office

day 11 of the zero waste challenge

The Problem:

Get this;

2 billion pens are manufactured in the US each year. And apparently, 1.6 billion are thrown away each year. 

The most famous one, the Bic Cristal sells 14 million per day.

bic cristal pen

Those numbers are from 2013, and there doesn’t seem to be an update on this anywhere. But I think it is safe to say that production would be even more by now, plus those numbers are only from the US.

If I look around my place, I can find at least 50 pens straight away. Probably most of them are dried out by now. Have a look in your draws and cupboards and see how many plastic pens you can find?

What is a good alternative to those plastic pens, and how to recycle pens?

Part of my zero waste journey is also to turn my office zero waste. The first thing I did was buy a fountain pen for myself. I actually recall having Lamy pens at school, and pretty much every child had one of them. They are awesome and come in so many different colors. You can get refillable ink cartridges for them. 

how to recycle pens

This time I bought a Pilot pen from Japan. It is fine and feels really nice in my hand. As I was reading one of Tim Ferri’s 5 bullets Friday articles. He recommended to go and check out the fountain pen hospital. It is probably best to go there in person and feel the pens and feel how they sit in your hand before you buy, but worth a look.

The feeling you get from owning your own personal fountain pen is quite special. They even adjust to your writing style after a while since the tip is made from metal and will wear slightly. 

You can also get tonnes of different inks for your pen. Sure the upfront cost is a bit higher than a $1 pen from Bic. But you got to look at it as an investment for the planet and yourself. Owning a nice pen is feels good.

Here are some fun facts about pens:

  1. Rollerball pens with a cap are water-based and can dry out.
  2. Retractable ballpoint pens are oil-based and don’t dry out.
  3. Retractable gel pens have wax on the tip that must be taken off before writing.
  4. Pens are 5,000 years old. Ancient Egyptians used reed straws and ink made of soot or red ochre mixed with vegetable gum and beeswax.
  5. In the 1850s, Birmingham became the top pen nib manufacturer, producing half of all the world’s pens.
  6. The average Bic Cristal ballpoint can produce a line of around 2km. That means that one single pen could draw a line over four times longer than the Empire State Building height.
  7. Modern ballpoint pens feature metal balls as the writing point. Oftentimes these are made from tungsten carbide, which is three times tougher than steel!
  8. Gold-nibbed fountain pens slowly adjust to your writing style. As the pen is used, the nib flexes and softens.
  9. World’s biggest ballpoint pen: 18 ft 0.53 in and weighing 82.08 lb 1.24 oz.
  10. On average, a pen can write approximately 45,000 words.
  11. Pen caps cause over 100 deaths a year by people playing with the cap in their mouth and swallowing it.
  12. In 95% of cases, if a person is given a new pen, the first word they write is their name.
  13. There are 5 main kinds of pens used worldwide: ballpoint, fountain, soft-tip. Rolling-ball and specialty pens.
  14. In World War II, pilots used ballpoint pens because they do not leak at high altitudes.
  15. The most commonly owned promotional products among all consumers are writing instruments.
  16. More than two billion pens are manufactured in the United States annually.
  17. Ballpoint pens have quick-drying ink making them perfect for left-handed writers.
  18. Gel pens are a combination of qualities from both the ballpoint and rollerball pens. (source)

More than 150 billion units produced since the 1950s

How to recycle pens?


Most pens are made from Polystyrene (plastic #6), and the cap is made from Polypropylene (plastic #5) ( the Bic pen, e.g.); they are nearly impossible to recycle. Although Polystyrene is 100% recyclable, there are only a few facilities that can recycle it, and the cost of transport is often too high to turn it into something valuable. 

The best option to recycle pens is to send them to a company called Terracycle. These guys are also the brains behind Loop.

Related: Can Loop be the answer to single-use plastic?

Terracycle has many zero waste boxes that you can get. Some are free, and some come with a little extra cost. 

You can order the box online or get it from these retailers:

earthhero logo

They accept pens and pen caps, mechanical pencils, markers and marker caps, permanent markers, and permanent marker caps.

Terracycle cleans and sorts the pens until they are ready to be turned into new products. 

While it is not the end of plastic pens, it is the best solution to recycle your pens and give them a new life. 

Your Zero Waste Challenge:

  • Get yourself a fountain pen.

You can get one from your local thrift store if you want to see how you go with it, or eBay is also a good source for secondhand pens. You would be surprised to see how many secondhand pens you can get on eBay. I was!

More ideas to tur your office zero waste:

  • Buy reusable Binders such as this one:
reusable binders
  • Change your plastic Highlighters for eco-friendly ones
how to recycle pens
  • Use recycled paper

You see, these are just a few small steps again that don’t break the bank, and you are on your way to have a nice zero waste office.

how to recycle pens

I hope this information was useful to you, and I get you excited about fountain pens and how to recycle pens since we don’t want them clogging up landfills or our ocean and beaches.

Be sure to subscribe to my blog and share the content:

7 thoughts on “Day 11 Zero waste Challenge | Zero Waste Office”

  1. Hi there, I enjoyed reading this post. I used a fountain pen at school years ago but I have not used one since. My issue with them was that you had to write slowly and not press too hard to ensure that you did not break the nib. I find now that I use a pen with refills like Parker pens or Cross but maybe I’ll re-visit the fountain pens again. I’m interested in the eco-friendly highlighters. I’ll definitely check these out too.

    • Hi Tamika, the fountain pen I use is the pilot pen which was around $30 and I did not notice that I have to be careful with it. I can put a fair bit of pressure on it. Perhaps you would like to go for something with a slightly bigger tip. I also have dropped mine a couple of times and I just spilled some ink and the tip came a little lose once. It was an easy fix because I just had to push it back in and sorted. Still works like a charm.

  2. I love this post. I haven’t thought of how much impact pens have on the environment till I saw this post. But it makes sense and it’s great that you’re raising awareness around this important issue. i’ve never used a fountain pen, but it sounds like it’s certainly a viable option. I also love the 18 interesting facts about pens that you’ve put together! Fascinating! I’ll bookmark your site and be sure to come back for more ideas on reducing our waste and thus impact on our planet.

  3. There is only one earth, it is our responsibility to protect it. Start from the small things just like get myself a fountain pen and use the recycled paper, by the way, it is fun “In 95% of cases, if a person is given a new pen, the first word they write is their name.” 🙂 Great post, thanks for sharing.

  4. What a great read, Hendrik!

    And I watched your video as well, and it sounds like you and I pretty much did the same thing: Stopped eating meat some time ago, but it was always the sort of main part of a meal while growing up. Like you say: Without meat, it wasn’t really a meal, was the general feeling… And I feel just the way you do: Healthier, more energy, great ****… :p

    Anyway, the article was great, and I think it’s such an important topic these days. Although I see myself as being pretty good with recycling, I can always get better, and your tips on reusable binders and a fountain pen would do exactly that! I’ll make sure to pay eBay a visit!

    Thanks for the article,


Leave a Comment