Dear Recyclebank: Can you recycle markers and pens? – Julie L.
Dear Julie L.: Pens and markers are everywhere in daily life, which unfortunately adds up to a huge amount of waste across the world. Many of us have the odd pen-top lying around, and it would be great to be able to recycle them.
Unfortunately, many curbside recycling programs don’t accept small plastic objects such as pens and marker lids, and their casings (even if you remove the ink cartridge), for two reasons. First, the size of these items makes them difficult to process. Second, pens and markers tend to be made from many different types of plastic, some that can be recycled and some that cannot. However, some communities may accept these items, so check with your hauler to see if they are accepted in your area.
Many people tend to think of pens and markers as cheap, disposable objects, and manufacturers have reinforced this attitude toward these writing utensils in order to meet demand for cheap products. It’s kind of a “chicken vs. egg” thing. We all play our part influencing markets, and in turn markets influence our habits. Keep in mind, what you choose to buy — or not buy — has a lot of power to influence what companies make and sell. Nevertheless, we all have that junk drawer (or office stock room) that needs reckoning, so what should be done?
Whether your hauler accepts pen- and marker-plastic or not, when it comes to writing utensils, the two Rs before recycle — Reduce and Reuse — are extra important.
Maybe we don’t need as many pens in our lives. It’s nice to have a pen handy, but do you need an eight pack? Probably not. Art or stationery stores usually sell writing and drawing utensils individually. Just get one or two good ones and keep them in a specific place, so they don’t get lost.
Make your writing utensils last. If you store your pens tip down (instead of tip up), the ink will flow by gravity to make sure you get every last drop. Heating a ballpoint with a lighter will loosen a gunk buildup. For markers, you can rehydrate the tips with vinegar.
Are you heavy-duty pen user, an old-fashioned letter writer, or a journal writer? Do you take a lot of notes? Invest in a refillable pen, so you’ll use fewer resources over time — not to mention probably save money in the long run. The Pilot BeGreen series of pens and markers are an affordable option, and they are made from at least 70 percent recycled content. Almost all of them can be refilled with replaceable ink cartridges, so the bulk of the durable materials in the pen can be used over and over.
Another way to extend the useful life of pens is to use them to their completion. Often, only the favorite pens in a drawer get used, and then when it’s time to clean out the drawer, the boring pens get landfilled — with many feet of line still in them. Just don’t buy new until you’re out of ink. Once you’ve used your markers to completion, try to find a take-back program to send them to — or you can make them into a fun jump rope for kids.
Recycling these items can be tricky, but there are options for some types. Dixon offers a take-back program for their Prang brand markers. (Note that the ink cartridges and felt tips of markers must be removed before they can be recycled). Crayola is working with schools to promote an in-school take-back program for their markers, which can help kids understand the importance of conserving resources. Finally, if you’d like to donate your writing instruments to an artist, you can mail them to Costas Schuler — more commonly known as “The Pen Guy”. Who knows, maybe your pen will be famous someday.
We probably won’t give up writing with pens and drawing with markers anytime soon. With that in mind, we can do our best to buy only what we need from companies doing their part to conserve resources and reduce GHG pollution, and ensure that what we buy lasts in a useful way as long as possible.