Plastic Pen Problems

Plastic Pen Problems

Plastic products

A hot topic these days is the problem we have with single-use plastic products.  We’ve all read about how we’re destroying our wildlife, and indeed our planet, with our plastic rubbish.

So now we’re all making an effort to reduce how much plastic we use and how much plastic we’re throwing away.  And we’re also looking for alternatives to this material.

Or at least we should be.

We’re now taking our re-usable shopping bags with us to the market and supermarket.  We’re buying things in bulk to reduce packaging.  We’re recycling our rubbish like never before.

One of the most talked about single use products that has become the ‘enemy’ is the plastic straw.  So much has been written about the plastic straw, which has led to an almost universal hatred of this previously much loved drinking tool.

plastic straws
Straws are bad news these days

Everyone is looking for an alternative.

Nobody wants to go back to the humble paper straw that a lot of us grew up with.

Paper straws get soggy, it’s true.  Too soggy to finish your drink to the end most of the time.  And do you remember trying to drink a milkshake or thickshake through a paper straw?  Such fun!

So, now we have re-usable metal straws.  And I’ve recently seen that there are now re-usable bamboo straws available on the market.

I rarely find myself with a drink that requires a straw, so I haven’t had to adapt my drinking habits to these new types of re-usable straws.  I also haven’t noticed them yet in cafes, restaurants or bars.  Maybe it will take a while for business owners in Moscow (where I currently live) to catch on.

There’s also been a lot of talk about other plastic items, such as toothbrushes (also now made from bamboo), throw away plastic picnic plates, cutlery, cups, and other single use items.

Today I want to introduce another plastic product into the conversation.

The humble pen.

You all know that I love writing. I wrote about it in this post about letters

Most of all I love writing with a pen, on paper, like we used to do in the ‘old days’.

The pen I’ve used today to write the first draft of this post is made of plastic.

It’s one of those promotional pens that companies make for marketing purposes.   They make them by the hundreds, or even thousands.  And most of the time they’re made of plastic.

Promotional pens are everywhere!

You know the ones.  You probably have some yourself.  They’re from your local mechanic, insurance company, bank etc.  Maybe even your kids’ school or your own workplace.

And why not, they’re free!

I love free stuff.  But how many pens are being made right now?  And how many more do we need?

How many pens do we have?

Take a look in your house, office, or car right now and count how many pens you have lying around.

You probably have pens in your handbag, too.  In the junk drawer in the kitchen.  Don’t  forget to check in the fruit bowl.

They’re everywhere!

You have more pens than you need.  And so do I, by the way.

But, you’ll keep getting more from various places, and you’ll put them somewhere in your home or car or office.  Because we never know when we might need one.

Have you noticed that when you do need a pen, you can’t find one?  Why is that?  We’ve just established that we have more pens than we need, yet when we have to write or sign something, they all seem to have disappeared.

It’s a mystery.

And so we get a new pen (or borrow one and don’t give it back, another great way to add to your pen collection), use it once, and it’s never to be seen again!  What happens to all the pens we bring home?  Where do they go? 

Some of them are down the back of the sofa.  Some of them are in the junk drawer (a lot of them, I would guess).  You’ll even find some of them on the floor of your car.

Do you use all of your pen?

By the way, I have a question for you.

When was the last time you used a pen until there was no more ink in it? 

And another question.  Why is it so hard to do this?

I’ve met only one other person in my life who uses their pens until they run out of ink. 

You have one pen on the desk.  Use it until it doesn’t work anymore.  Put it in the bin.  Get another pen (a free one, or buy one, or ‘borrow’ one) and start using it. Rinse and repeat.

That’s precisely what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m one of those people.

I have one pen on my desk.  I never lose it.  And when I’m at home I only use this one.  The day it runs out, I will put it in the bin, open my ‘junk drawer’, (which contains all the free, promotional pens I’ve collected over the past few years), and get a new one.

And, I have one pen in my bag, which I’ll use until it runs out.

I get some kind of strange satisfaction when my pen finally runs out. The last of the ink so faint on the page it’s impossible to read.

And only then I put my pen in the rubbish.  It’s been used to the end of its life, as it should be.

What’s my message?

So, what am I trying to say here?  Well, two things probably.

Firstly, if we all stop buying pens and use only the promotional ones that we can get for free (or, vice versa, stop taking the free ones and only buying what we need), or just use the ones we already have, then this will reduce the number of plastic pens that are manufactured, and subsequently lost/put in the rubbish.

And secondly, if we all try to use our pens until the ink runs out, we’ll use our pens for longer.  This means we won’t have to buy so many.  We won’t be throwing away or losing perfectly good pens.

I’ve got a drawer full of pens that I’ve ‘collected’.  I’ve calculated that if I use every one of these pens until the ink runs out, I won’t have to buy another pen in my life!  (I’ll let you know how that works out.) 

So, what do you think?  Is it unrealistic to expect people to use a pen until the ink runs out?  Are pens contributing in a negative way to our worldwide plastic rubbish problem? (it’s been reported that Americans throw away 1.6 BILLION pens each year!  There isn’t, however, any statistics about whether those pens are still full of ink or not).  Here’s an interesting article on the topic. 

Have you counted how many pens you have in your possession?  Have you thought about what’s happened to all the pens you’ve had over the years?   Where are they now – down the back of your sofa, in the rubbish dump, or somewhere in between?

Tell me your pen stories!

~ Cheryl

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CherylChristie HawkesNatalieAllison GonzalezLeanne | Recent comment authors
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Christina Daggett

Hi Cheryl. I also use a pen until it runs out of ink and then we buy more. I try to keep them in the same place, which is either in the pocket of my back pack or in my night table drawer. I use a pen for writing in a journal that I’ve kept all my life and now for writing the rough draft of a blog post. I thought I was the only one that did that, too. I really hate anything made of plastic and I would prefer to have a Swarovski pen like we bought for… Read more »

Ellen Hawley

I’m old enough to remember–barely–refillable fountain pens. I also remember the amount of ink I wore. I’d like to think that at this stage in my life, I wouldn’t wear quite as much of it but I’m not sure.

Leanne |

I prefer blue ink pens so all the freebie ones have no appeal to me (they always have black ink for some strange reason). I’m not a hoarder of pens (I have about 3 atm) – but I have a friend that must have 50 or more jammed in a container near her phone – she collects them (crazy!) Also, speaking of straws, we were given a paper one at a cafe recently that was more like cardboard thickness – so no sogginess. I find those re-usable ones a bit dodgy – you’d have to be very thorough with your… Read more »

Allison Gonzalez

Hey Cheryl. I try to minimize my earth footprint as best I can and I admit I use a lot of pens BUT I’m a pen snob, lol. I do buy the nicer gel pens. Nobody else gets to use them and I use them until they run out.

Yet now I think I’m going to search for a refillable pen, that would be better for the earth and maybe even my pocketbook.



Hi Cheryl – I use free pens until they run out of ink. I keep one pen in my handbag and one at my desk. I make notes on my phone these days. The pen in my bag is useful when I travel and have to fill out forms at some airports. Any step we can take to reduce unnecessary waste is good.

Christie Hawkes

Hello Cheryl. I also have pens stashed everywhere, and yet there are times when I cannot locate one–or at least one that I like. 🙂 Once I find one I really like though, I do use it until all the ink is used. I never throw a pen away until it is out of ink or starts leaking. I rarely purchase pens. As you noted, there are plenty of give-aways available–some from the insurance company I work for! By the way, I carry a metal straw with me for drink emergencies! 🙂 When I pack a lunch to work, I… Read more »

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