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How Do You Recycle Ink Pens?

Pile of used pens

What do you do when you've finished with a used ink pen – toss it in the trash?

Probably, because that's what we all do. It's about the only thing you can do with an old pen.

Complete pens can't go into normal plastic recycling bins because they contain bits of metal, as well as the remainder of the ink. The barrels themselves are typically "Type 5 recyclable plastic," according to Pilot, but all metal components and the refills have to be removed before recycling.

So, even if you disassembled every pen you use, you would still be left with a pile of clips, plungers, springs, barrel rings, screw-on tips, and refills.

As the Sustainable Attorney explained it recently, in a blog post about pen recycling options, his office uses potentially thousands of pens and markers every year. Trying to break down and recycle parts of pens would simply take too much time for too little result.

A student in China has even started collecting empty ink cartridges in an attempt to keep them from ending up in landfills.

Dong Yufei told China Daily:

He came up with the idea after he took the college entrance examinations last June. He noticed that many students, himself included, just threw away empty refills after the examinations.

He made a quick calculation.

"I would chuck away about 100 refills each year if I used up one in three days. The several thousand students in my school would consume hundreds of thousands in a year. Then how about our city, or our province?"

He learned that refills contain pollutants including volatile substances, ink and plastics that cannot fully break down if not recycled.

"Without recycling, numberless waste refills will cause great pollution," said Dong, who decided to collect enough of them so that at least the plastic refill tubes could be recycled.

The only problem is, now he has more than 150,000 refills – and nothing to do with them. The recycling factories he's approached have turned him down. And an experiment to remove the ink from each refill with a needle failed.

So, where does that leave the rest of us who use disposable, or even refillable, pens?

There are a few choices.

One is a company called Terracycle, which has what it calls Writing Instruments Brigades. The way it works is that groups sign up, collect used pens, pencils, markers, etc. and send them into Terracycle. The company says it can remake them into everything from park benches to trashcans. Each brigade gets points for collecting the used pens, and those points can be redeemed for charitable donations to non-profits and schools.

Unfortunately, there are no open brigade slots in the US right now, so you would have to join the waiting list. However, Terracycle and Bic recently announced a UK partnership to collect used pens. So far, they've taken in more than 100,000 writing instruments and have slots open for 77 more brigades, according to the website.

Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of other options.

The World Environmental Organization recommends disassembling pens and using the various parts for, among other things, making bird cage perches, allowing older children to play with them as toys, and turning them into homemade decorations.

Yeah, not terribly helpful.

Of course, you could always send your used pens to Costas Schuler, otherwise known as The Pen Guy. He has collected more than 10,000 used pens as an art project that covers his 1981 Mercedes 300SD. And he's still collecting, hoping to end up with more than 1 MILLION pens to use for giant murals.

Meanwhile, Lexmark has been making some technological advances in recycling ink. The printer manufacturer works with a company called Close the Loop to turn used inkjet cartridges into new ink pens. Last year, they released a rollerball version and have now come out with an updated pen that is more like a felt-tip marker.

Maybe along the way, they'll figure out a feasible method for reusing old ink pens.

Until then, you can try sending pens to some of the collectors mentioned above...or just store them in a big bin in the garage until something better comes along.

9 thoughts on “How Do You Recycle Ink Pens?”

  • Maja

    I can't recall the last time I bought an ink cartridge pack as I refill the used ones with a syringe. The Terracycle idea sounds great, though :)

    Reply
  • Adam Prochaska

    Great article! We continue to save our pens even though right now we have no real option for recycling them. We will patiently wait for TerraCycle to send us a pen brigade invitation. Although I do not think the pen brigade is a permanent fix, it can certainly transition us to where we need to be - an office that only uses refillable, non-disposable pens.

    Reply
  • The Pen Guy

    Thank you for adding my Mercedes Pens Art Car as an option to dealing with old used pens.
    The Pen Guy
    6484 Mirabel Road #994
    Forestville, CA 95436

    Reply
  • Hank Rogers

    If you can use the my ink pens Pen Guy, let me know please . Hank Rogers in Chicago, Il.

    Reply
  • Fayre

    It is a problem - I try to stick to my fountain pens and this is one reason, refill, reuse....

    My neighbour uses the plastic bodies of pens on (I presume) string to scare the birds off of his vegetable patch but I know of no other real life use for the pen bodies, as for the nib sections and other bits and bobs, I have to hope that someday they are more widely recycled or alternative materials can be used.

    Great thought-provoking article.

    Reply
  • The pen guy

    Thanks cor the post i now have a new site www.penguyart.com

    Reply
  • KFam

    The silly thing about the world is that the adoption of throwaway pens took off so rapidly after the 60's that there is no way we can salvage all that lost material in landfills.
    Aside from the toxins, the enormous amount of energy gone in making those items is the cause of many of today's problems. Oh how I wish those rational and sensible one of us continue to think twice about the concept of recycling. You can adopt the 3rd world's idea of reusing a bottle as opposed to the idea of breaking all that glass then remaking another one out of it -- the energy cost can be quite large.

    Reply
  • Strawberry

    I love pens, but nowdays I walk into a stationary shop and see rows upon rows of colorful disposable pens and all I can think of is, "Look at all that future rubbish!" No matter how cool or cute a pen looks, I won't buy it if it's not refillable. Another annoying thing is refills with lots of fancy/uneccesary packaging (ie. waste) which kinda beats the purpose of buying a refillable pen. I hope people will seriously think about waste reduction in this area.

    Reply
  • Mo

    Pens with caps - like disposable bic pens - can be used by hobbyist model builders as structural connectors;

    Say you've got parts that go on a model you've built, but you want to take them off to save space while in storage. Instead of bolting or gluing it all together, you can use pens and their caps as the connectors - just snap the bit holding the caps with on the bit holding the caps, and it's on. Then, when it's time to break it up again, just pull it off.

    better yet, alternate between pens and caps for greater strength in order to prevent lateral movement from dislodging the caps, so that only pulling it perpendicularly to the model would work.

    Reply
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