Disposable Pens Are No Small Problem
According to the EPA, Americans throw away 1.6 billion disposable pens every year. Add the rest of the world, multiply by over 50 years of writing with disposable pens, and that’s a lot of metal and plastic waste ending up in landfill! I suspect it’s just the tip of the iceberg, given the piles of disposable pens that many of us haven’t thrown out yet. Not to mention the refillable pens that we never take the trouble to refill.
I Did A Census of My Disposable Ballpoint Pens Today
You know, the ones stashed in drawers, crammed into pencil cups and broken coffee mugs. I counted 19 in the kitchen, 18 in the den, and 11 in the living/dining room. There were 34 in my study (mixed in with pencils, markers, highlighters, scissors and not one, but three letter openers), 8 in the bedroom, and 6 in my purse. I found another 32 in my office, and 10 more in briefcases and bags. En route to school, I harvested 3 from the glove compartment of my car—for a grand total of 141! (And I haven’t even checked under the couch cushions, or in my old purses or coat pockets.)
The strange thing is, I don’t remember buying any of them. They seem to follow me home from meetings, events, hotels, and conferences, and end up staying permanently. Judging from the number of disposable pens in every nook and cranny of my home, I suspect that some of them are reproducing when I’m not looking!
How Did I Get So Many Disposable Pens?
I would guess that many of you are experiencing similar disposable pen proliferation. How did this happen? And what can we do to prevent further waste?
For better or worse, our dependence on computers, tablets and smartphones means that we are not writing that much anymore.
Way back in third grade, I practiced penmanship under the watchful eye of my teacher, Miss Hepburn. Letters and words literally flowed from my treasured green fountain pen. I loved that Esterbrook pen, a present for my eighth birthday. In those days, good quality pens were routinely given as gifts for special occasions and became cherished possessions. (Just try giving your niece or nephew a pen for graduation this year!)
When my Esterbrook ran dry, I gingerly opened a bottle of ink, dipped in the nib, and slurped up another barrel-full. Eventually, ink bottles were replaced by less messy cartridges, and most people used ballpoint pens for everyday writing. But back then, we would buy one ballpoint pen and purchase refills as needed.
Disposable Pens by the Dozen
Fast forward to the age of Bic, and the advent of cheap, disposable pens. New habits were formed, and ballpoint pens (not refills) were soon sold by the pack. (I’m not sure that Gen Y’s are even aware that ballpoint pens can be refilled.) Now, everywhere we turn, someone is handing us an inexpensive pen with their company name on it. Many end up in a drawer, pencil cup or purse, never to see the light of day or fulfill their intended function.
Others are pitched in the trash when they run dry. (Would we throw away a flashlight when the batteries die?) Even if we wanted to purchase one, refills are not widely available, and it’s difficult to find exactly the right type and size for each pen (unlike more uniform AA, AAA, C and D batteries).
I Have Met The Enemy…
In the battle against disposable pen proliferation, I am clearly the victim and the perpetrator. As a dedicated Waste Watcher, the solution starts with me!
First, I’m going to clean house and try to find good homes for as many of my 141 disposable pens as I can. Perhaps some will end up in art projects by the Pen Guy and other artists.
With the help of Mr. Right (see “Taming a Wasteful Spouse” on this site), I will attempt to limit us to two refillable pens per room, pocket or purse. When people offer me a promotional pen, no matter how slick or cute, I will decline and tell them why. They probably haven’t considered the environmental consequences of their giveaways.
I will ask the bookstore at the college where I work to carry refills and display them prominently next to the ballpoint pens. And I just might challenge my Green Marketing students to last a whole semester with one pair of refillable pens, like the Pilot B2P made from recycled bottles.
Want To Join Me in the Fight Against Disposable Pen Proliferation?
Are pens littering your life? What ideas do you have for reducing disposable pen proliferation? What other waste-related pet peeves are keeping you awake at night?