Heart & Parcel pencil pots are made from recycled cotton
Fancy taking a green pencil box makeover? Whether you are at school or college (or still have a stash of pens and pencils on your home office desk), England is swimming in millions of pens, pencils, erasers, plastic rulers and protractors and more. But is it all really necessary? You may not wish to go totally old-fashioned and risk spilling ink from a real fountain pen. So are there other choices?
There are many types of writing materials, so we’ll take a quick look at them all, to see which is the better option for your lifestyle. The obvious choice is simply not to buy more than you need. You can’t recycle pens (and don’t send all your trash to Africa as some suggest, they have enough problems with overflowing landfills). Terracycle Recycled Instruments Box will take it all en-masse, but you have to collectively pay for the box, and they are full at present, anyway.
Slow your life down and take up meditation. Live simply. Why? Because if you don’t have to be rushing around making lists or writing down 30 ingredients for a recipe, you will not to use pens as much!
Most supermarkets now accept plastic wrap in the same boxes as recycling plastic bags. So you may not be able to recycle the pens, but you may be able to recycle the wrapping. The brands below all tend to be packed in cardboard. Be careful as some ‘natural crayons & pencils’ are coloured with dead red beetles: avoid anything with ‘carmine’.
The world’s top-selling brand of pens is BIC, which has sold over 100 billion. Its website is full of greenwash, saying that nearly all their plastic is PVC-free (it’s the plastic that’s the issue). Of course, pens are small enough to drop out of people’s pockets, and then end up in our seas, when they wash down storm drains. As well as plastic pens harming wildlife, BIC also makes millions of disposable lighters: apparently there’s a beach somewhere in the Pacific, where they wash up (having been swept from the currents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a heap of plastic trash the size of Texas).
- A fountain pen is likely the best choice, but not if you are of the clumsy persuasion, and liable to get it all over your white shirt. Another good choice is also ancient: The All-Weather Inkless Pen has been around since the days of Leonardo da Vinci: it never runs out, just leaves a tiny deposit of metal on the page (it can write on wet paper). It has a screw cap, for safe carrying. Costs £25 but lasts for life (if you don’t lose it).
- Remarkable makes promotional pens, pencils and other materials from trash. So you’ll find pencils made from old newspapers, pens made from recycled plastic bottles. They also sell renewable pens made from biodegradable plastic.
- Remember not to absent-mindedly take free pens from Argos?! And boycott big charities that waste donations on free pens, and instead give to small charities and humane research, that use your donations wisely, without creating more plastic trash.
- Bamboo pens (Australia) can use refillable cartridges.
Pencils used to be made of toxic lead, but most today are graphite. But pencil lead is still toxic to birds who apparently love playing with them. So keep all pencils (and pens) out of reach of children and pets (some children have died from choking on them).
- Use a wooden pencil sharpener, rather than a plastic one.
- Green Tulip sells packs of pencils made from recycled newspapers, packed in a cardboard box. Recreate pencils are made from recycled plastic cups, sold in a cardboard tub.
You can buy pens that grow into plants, at end of use. But many grow into pet-toxic wildflowers (see make your garden safe for pets (also avoid cocoa mulch, pine mulch & fresh compost near pets). If you live in a pet-free household or office, Sprout Pencils & Fabula Organic Pencil are the main brands.
Greener Office Supplies
- Natural erasers should be made from biodegradable rubber, so hopefully that’s not an issue.
- You can buy rulers made from recycled plastic. Learn how to measure an angle (if that kind of thing interests you) without need for a plastic protractor. You will need – a pen!
- Staples cause a lot of waste, as you can imagine each staple gun has 1000 staples or more. If you need one, Panda Eco Stapler sort of thumps 6 pages together, so you don’t need staples. It has mixed reviews but worth a try. Or use this simple Taiwanese trick that can bind 16 pages at a time, kind of like origami (all you need is your hands and 5 minutes online to learn).
- Unless you only left school or college in the last few years, you likely remember Tipp-ex, the smelly white liquid that you would use to correct mistakes. It’s been banned in many places due to substance abuse cases (it’s a solvent thinner) and health concerns (it can affect the lungs, blood and brain). It was invented in Germany in the 50s to help typists correct mistakes. Many of us who write, likely remember just before laptops came in, the frustration of slamming the same key down over and over, to try to get it in the right place (then seeing it all turn to a white mush; happy days!) White-out pens are just ‘Tipp-ex on a stick’.
Children’s Drawing Supplies
Chalk & crayons are choking hazards, so keep out of reach of young children.
- Chalk is natural (white cliffs of Dover etc). But most school chalk is also containing minerals and colourings. For children, Veggie Baby Sidewalk Chalk is made from organic vegetables & Veggie Baby Crayons are made from food-grade soy wax (most crayons are made from petroleum or pork fat).
- Okonorm makes water-based felt-tip pens. To call these zero waste is a stretch, but they are the best you’ll find. Made by an ecological German company, it claims that inks can wash out of most fabrics at 40 degrees C. The caps have safety ventilation holes (to help prevent accidental swallowing, so tips don’t slip inside cap or bend, when pressed). For age 3 and over.