Plastic Pen Pollution: Find Out The Right Way to Write

It’s only one plastic pen said eight billion people. Who are you kidding, who has only one pen?

Plastic pens are everywhere. They are at home, at workplaces and at schools, yet they are just as polluting as plastic bags and straws.

Pens are also given away at conferences, training days, in promotional bags, trade shows, networking events, lectures, political gatherings, music festivals, marathons and endless other business marketing opportunities.

Society has been using disposable plastic pens for over 50 years now. It’s estimated that the USA throws away 1.6 billion pens a year. If we imagine the amount of pens thrown away each year by the collective people of the world – it’s mind boggling.

Yet, there is very little awareness of the pollution caused by this small disposable item of which everyone seems to have a collection, whether it be in your car, bag, desk or other places around your house.

Schools unwittingly indoctrinate children with a consumerist throw away polluting attitude. Primary school children eagerly working towards their ‘pen licence’ are rewarded with – you guessed it – a disposable plastic pen. What sort of a future are we promoting for our future adults and decision makers?

Disposable plastic pens are the ultimate poster child for a throw-away society. All we use is the ink inside the pen, then we throw it away. Of course, there is no such thing as ‘away’.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but at least the sword can be recycled.

Plastic Pen Alternatives: Pencils

Firstly, do you even need to use a pen? Most of the time, it’s likely that using a pen is unnecessary. Sure, a lot of notes can be done on a smartphone but that’s not always practical. It’s times like this you need a pencil.

Pencils are eco-friendly as they are made from wood. The lead part of a grey lead pencil doesn’t actually contain any lead, it’s graphite and it’s safe to compost. Pencil shavings can be composted as well – it’s all organic matter.

Pencils are much cheaper to purchase than plastic pens. Furthermore, pencils are more artistic as you can control the shading and width of the line.

If a pencil breaks in half, don’t worry. You now have two usable pencils. Try doing that with a pen!

Plastic Pen Alternatives: Fountain Pens

Sometimes you have important documents that must be written in pen. Hey presto, the refillable fountain pen.

When I first started looking for a refillable pen I really had no idea what to search for. I didn’t even realise that refillable pens were fountain pens.

I started looking in shops and decided straight away I didn’t want a metal pen with replaceable plastic tubes of ink. You may be keeping the outer tube of the pen, yet every ink tube replacement is still disposable plastic.

After I clued onto that what I was after was a fountain pen, I was shocked at the price. I knew they lasted a very long time, however paying $80 for a pen that I might lose was, well, too much money to throw away.

In hindsight, this is the mentality of someone who has grown up in a consumer society. We could take better care of our possessions rather than not caring if it gets lost because it’s a disposable item anyway. And they’re so cheap, who really cares … you get the gist.

After some research and price comparisons, I eventually found a lightweight metal pen made with a refillable ink canister at a reasonable price.

Photo of a metal Lamy fountain pen with re-fillable ink.
Lamy AL-Star Fountain Pen

If you haven’t used a fountain a pen before you’ll be surprised at how smooth they are to write with, in fact, they are known to be a superior writing implement as they cause less hand fatigue and cramping.

Most fountain pens come with different sized nibs and there are so many different coloured inks to choose!

Refilling a Fountain Pen with Ink

Refilling the fountain pen with ink is easy to do. It’s as simple as dipping the nib into a bottle of ink and turning the top of the converter to draw the ink up into the cylinder.

What You Can Do

To reduce your environmental footprint, consider using a grey lead pencil instead of a disposable plastic pen for your everyday writing needs.

For special occasions, or for when written ink is required for important documents, use a refillable fountain pen.

Say no to all the disposable plastic pens used by businesses for marketing purposes. If we stop accepting these cheap plastic tokens, businesses will stop ordering them to give out.

Ask your child’s school and your workplace not to use disposable plastic pens and to choose environmentally friendly alternatives.

If you are involved in marketing, phase out promotional disposable plastic pens. Position yourself as a leader of an eco-conscious business.

Like to know more about a similar product – plastic straws. There’s plenty of alternatives to a plastic straw that are better for the environment. Read this article Plastic Straws Suck: Do You? to find out more information.

What’s your favourite eco-friendly pen? Please scroll down to comment below.

11 thoughts on “Plastic Pen Pollution: Find Out The Right Way to Write

  • 21 August 2019 at 7:12 pm

    I have a refillable metal pen that’s made from ballistics grade materials. And while it looks cool as (it has a built-in glass breaker) it is so heavy to use. I am using a pencil as often as i can, but i am going to buy myself a forever pen just like the one you write about and obviously with. Thanx Sustainable Living-blog 🙂

    • 21 August 2019 at 7:55 pm

      Glad I’ve inspired you to make an eco-friendly choice!

  • 31 December 2019 at 11:29 pm

    Pencil pencil pencil. I cannot stress how much better pencils are, environmentally speaking, than anything else for writing. I love them.

    But, be sure to chose wisely. A lot of the cheap(est) pencils are not good at all: Wood taken forest-destroyingly, no reforestation, bad manufacturing (like spot-glueing, leading to pencil with loose leads), abuse of workers, usage of toxic chemicals (for the glue, and paint, mostly) etc. Brand name pencils are only a little bit more expensive, but are better to use, last longer, and are produced more environmentally friendly.

    Certainly depends on where you live. I happen to live in Germany, and the biggest (and ubiquitous available) German brands are unbelievably environmentally friendly. I say unbelievably, because even a lot of proponents of eco-friendliness don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t want to advertise it (because they’re “big bad industry”).

  • 21 June 2020 at 11:47 am

    Whar about mechanical pencils? Perhaps the least wasteful of all writing instruments…

    • 21 June 2020 at 7:50 pm

      Hi Barry, thanks for the comment. Can you recommend a refillable mechanical pen not made from plastic? I’d love to investigate further.

    • 22 February 2022 at 11:14 am

      One problem i can see is the replacement graphite sticks usually come in a chunky plastic canister.

  • 21 June 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Staedtler 925 series. Made by German company Staedtler in Japan for the Japanese market, but can be bought online for reasonable prices. Drawing pencil (i.e., the tube extending the front, protecting the lead, is fixed).

    • 22 June 2020 at 7:36 pm

      I’ve had a look online, thanks. Very sleek. An aluminium mechanical pencil, for a reasonable price too.

  • 8 January 2021 at 7:32 pm


    I actually work with a group called Eco Pen Club, we sell pens with 100% compostable / recycleable materials (that actually look really good). Yes, our pens still have a tiny bit of plastic, but its recycleable! We have an Insta (@ecopenclub) and a store ( if you’re interested 🙂

    • 8 January 2021 at 8:42 pm

      Awesome! Love it! Thanks for sharing!

Comments are closed.