How to Recycle Pens and Pencils

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Published: January 1st, 2019

Updated: April 30th, 2019

We love pens and pencils and we use them for everything, including note-taking, drawing, and editing. The next time your pen runs out of ink or your pencil is too tiny to sharpen, don’t throw it away or toss it on the ground. Instead, recycle your used-up writing utensils so they don’t take up space in a landfill somewhere.

How can pens and pencils be recycled? What are some ways to reduce and reuse writing tools? Let’s learn all the ways we can help the planet by recycling pens and pencils!

Recycle

How can pens and pencils be recycled? What are some ways to reduce and reuse writing tools? Let's learn about all the ways we can help the planet by eliminating unnecessary waste!

How to Recycle Pens

In order to recycle pens, they must be separated into their different parts. That’s because not all plastics are recyclable. Pens are primarily made up of two different types of plastic: polystyrene (PS) and polypropylene (PP). Polystyrene is used to make the barrel of a pen, whereas the ink tubes and pen caps are made from polypropylene.

Recycle
Recycle

Both polystyrene and polypropylene can be recycled. Many local recycling plants, however, won’t accept them. This is because the plant would lose money transferring the plastics to other facilities, or their facility simply doesn’t have the equipment to separate and clean the items.

If you want to recycle your pens, you’ll have to find a facility near you that accepts them first. Once you’ve found a place, you’ll want to check their minimum requirements and ask if you have to separate the pens before you drop them off. Most places will disassemble the pens for you! In general, it’s best to have a lot of pens because they’re small, and the pieces become even smaller once they’re broken down into their separate parts. Small pieces are hard to process and recycle when they aren’t in large quantities. Don’t have any recycling plants near you? Try purchasing refillable pens or eco-friendly pens that are made out of biodegradable or recycled material. They’re better for the environment than disposable pens and contribute to making the Earth a little greener.

Once you’ve dropped off your pens, they will be separated, cleaned, and shredded. After the plastic is broken into smaller pieces, it can be molded into a variety of new products. Who knows, maybe your pens will be transformed into that new slide your child loves at the playground or the lawn chair you enjoy sitting in!

If you don’t have enough pens to meet their requirements, ask your friends, family, and co-workers to clean out their stash of pens or have a pen-recycling party. You can even call your local schools or ask your child’s teacher if they would like to contribute to your efforts.

Check out more ways to get rid of your unused or dried up pens instead of throwing them out:

Host a Pen Recycling Party

Host a Pen Recycling Party

Bring Them to a Facility that Accepts Pens

Bring Them to a Facility that Accepts Pens

Recycle the Caps, Barrels, Ink Tubes Separately

Recycle the Caps, Barrels, Ink Tubes Separately

Make a Lamp Shade

Make a Lamp Shade

Use Empty Barrels to Carry Sewing Needles

Use Empty Barrels to Carry Sewing Needles

How to Recycle Pencils

Just like pens, pencils aren’t easy to recycle, despite being made out of recyclable materials. That’s because when pencils are made, the wood is treated, processed, and painted multiple times. After this process, the wood is no longer recyclable. Since most wood that’s recycled is broken down, burned, made into mulch, or used for composting, treated and processed wood wouldn’t break down or deteriorate from being over-processed.

Although the wood in a pencil isn’t recyclable, there are still many ways for them to stay out of landfills. One way is by using up every possible inch of the pencil. Unlike pens, pencils get shorter the more you use them because they need to be sharpened. By using up the majority, you’re making sure perfectly useful pencils don’t wind up in the trash.

The most recyclable piece of a pencil is the ferrule, or the little metal piece that holds the eraser in place. Depending on the pencil, the ferrule can be made from either copper or aluminum. Both of these metals are easily recyclable, in large quantities of course. Ferrules are far too tiny to be recycled one at a time. In order to recycle the ferrules, it’s best to call a facility that will recycle aluminum or copper and ask how much of them you’d need to drop off.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace or a fire pit in your backyard, gather up pencil stubs and use them for kindling. You can also try purchasing eco-friendly pencils that were made from recycled materials. There are even pencils that can be planted after they’re done being used. Everyone would be amazed to hear that your new basil plant or tree started out as a pencil!

Look at the ways you can use pencils that are better for the environment:

Using for Kindling Fire

Using for Kindling Fire

Make Jewelry

Make Jewelry

Use Pencil Shavings for Garden Mulch

Use Pencil Shavings for Garden Mulch

Buy Pencils that You Can Plant

Buy Pencils that You Can Plant

Build a Birdhouse

Build a Birdhouse

Recycling Programs for Writing Utensils

Pens and pencils aren’t the only items that have a hard time being recycled. In fact, writing utensils, including crayons, mechanical pencils, and markers, face similar issues. Writing tools are used on a daily basis and many companies, like Crayola, are offering programs that recycle hard-to-recycle items.

Earth 911

Earth 911

When it comes to recycling, many people don’t know where to even start. It can be difficult, especially when your local recycling company doesn’t accept a lot of recyclable items. Earth 911 helps you find facilities near you that accept items anywhere from batteries to paint to pens and pencils! Before you throw away your stash of writing utensils, do a quick search with Earth 911. You never know if there’s a company near you that will recycle your items for you.

Earth 911
TerraCycle

TerraCycle

TerraCycle is a company that offers a variety of free programs. These programs are funded by other companies who want to help collect and recycle waste that can’t be recycled by tossing in a recycling bin. It’s free to sign up and find programs. Once enough waste is gathered, you can print a free shipping label and TerraCycle does the rest. Some places, like Vanderbilt University, also offer drop off locations with TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box.

TerraCycle
ColorCycle

ColorCycle

ColorCycle is a free program started by Crayola that allows schools K-12 in the United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) to recycle old, dried out markers. Eventually, Crayola hopes to expand their services to consumers, daycare centers, and preschools. While ColorCycle only accepts markers, they do allow people to donate all types of markers, even if they aren’t the Crayola brand.

ColorCycle

Recycling writing utensils is so important that a school in San Rafael California had students make a video asking Crayola to create a program that let them recycle their dried-up markers. It might just be coincidence, but a year after the video was released, ColorCycle was started.

Take a look at these students’ powerful message to Crayola!

With so many options for easy recycling, it’s hard to say no! The next time you’re getting ready to toss out those dried-up markers or broken colored pencils, remember there are programs and companies out there that will do most of the work for you.

Do the Math

Pens and pencils require extra steps to be recycled because they're made up of tiny pieces. This can make recycling difficult to sort, which is why some recycling companies won't accept pens and pencils.

Do the Math
Do the Math

Pens and pencils are just as important to recycle as paper and cans. Even if you can’t recycle due to your location, budget, or don’t have enough time, there are many ways you can reduce and reuse your writing utensils.

Reduce & Reuse

Recycling isn’t always easy, but there are ways to cut back and repurpose your pens and pencils. Whether it’s storing them differently or investing in additional tools like an eraser, you can still make a positive environmental impact.

Tips to Make Your Pens Last Longer

Tips to Make Your Pens Last Longer
Recycling isn’t always easy, but there are ways to cut back and repurpose your pens and pencils. Whether it’s storing them differently or investing in additional tools like an eraser, you can still make a positive environmental impact.

  1. Store upside down
    When your pens aren’t in use, store them upside down in a desk organizer, pen cup, or even an unused coffee mug.

  2. Heat ballpoint tips
    The next time your ballpoint pen stops working, try heating it up with a lighter to loosen ink buildup. Don’t do it too long though because the plastic can melt.

  3. Rehydrate felt tips with vinegar
    Felt-tip pens can be revived with a little bit of vinegar. Instead of submerging the pen, place the tip in the vinegar for a couple seconds.

  4. Soak the pen
    Try placing your pens in a cup of hot water or rubbing alcohol to get ink flowing smoothly again. If you don’t want to leave your pens submerged in water long, place them in a sealable storage bag.

  5. Blow air into the ink cartridge
    During the process of making pens, the ink is compressed into the tubes, which can cause air pockets. Removing the cartridge and blowing air into it can fix this problem.

  6. Use rubber or a damp cloth
    It can be common for pens, like ballpoint and gel, to clump up because the ink flows through a ball and socket mechanism. Something as simple as wiping the pen on a damp cloth or rubbing it on a rubber surface can remove any clumps.

  7. Try a paper clip and nail polish remover
    To restore dried ink, try using a straightened-out paper clip dipped in nail polish remover. Part of a paper clip is skinny enough to fit down most ink cartridges.

  8. Keep the lid on
    Pen ink is a liquid substance that dries when it reaches air, so you shouldn’t leave them uncapped. If you’re using a retractable or twist-to-open pen, make sure the tips aren’t exposed when they’re not in use.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pencils

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pencils

Pens are thrown out when they break or run out of ink, but many people throw away their pencils when they still have a long life ahead of them. That’s because people find pencils no longer useful, even though they still write, after the eraser wears out or the pencil becomes uncomfortable to hold. Pencils come from trees that have been chopped down. You wouldn’t cut down a tree and throw it away, so you shouldn’t do the same thing to pencils.

Here are ways you can make sure your pencil lives a long, fulfilling life:

  1. Buy an eraser
    An eraser’s lifespan on the tip of a pencil varies depending on how much it’s used. If you erase a lot, buy an eraser to use after your pencils dies out.

  2. Get a good pencil sharpener
    Dull blades can damage the tip of your pencil, making the lead more likely to break when writing. An excellent sharpener will have sharp blades and not weaken the graphite tip.

  3. Don’t oversharpen
    You can easily oversharpen even if you have a good sharpener. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it shortens the life of the pencil.

  4. Rotate the pencil
    As you write, the tip of your pencil dulls on one side. Every time you write, get in the habit of rotating your pencil to get the most out of each sharpen.

  5. Invest in a pencil extender
    Artists use these mostly for colored pencils, but anyone can use them for any type of pencil. Once a pencil is too small to hold, you lock it into a pencil extender to make it the size it once was.

  6. Cap a sharpened pencil
    If you have an old pen cap lying around, use it to cap your pencil. Since the tip is easily broken, this will protect the tip of the pencil so that it doesn’t dull while being carried in your purse or pocket.

  7. Use a mechanical pencil
    The lead inside a mechanical pencil can be bought and refilled, cutting down on waste. Since you can continue to replace the lead, you’ll never have to throw it out.

Donate Your Pens and Pencils

When all else fails, there are people out there who will happily accept your unwanted and unused pens and pencils. Whether it’s for art, low-income areas, or developing countries, there are much better places for your extra writing tools than a landfill.

Art and Creativity Source: www.flickr.com

Art and Creativity

You’ve heard of people using pencils, pens, and markers to draw or create art, but what about people using writing utensils as art? Costas Schuler is an artist, also known as the pen guy, who collects and reuses pens in art that others would normally toss in the trash. Whether it’s ballpoint pens, dry erase markers, or mechanical pencils, he takes them all. There are drop off locations in parts of California or you can ship your writing utensils to him. Maybe your pens and pencils will be famous someday!

Art and Creativity Source: www.flickr.com
Send to:
The Pen Guy
P.O. Box 994
Forestville, CA 95436
If using UPS or Fedex:
The Pen Guy
6484 Mirabel Rd #994
Forestville, CA 95436

Helping Others

Many people are fortunate enough to own at least one writing utensil, however, there are people out there who don’t have this luxury. While a junk drawer full of pens and pencils may be a nuisance, there are teachers and students who would gladly take them off your hands.

Check out these organizations to donate your unused writing utensils:

Right-to-Write

Right-to-Write
Founded by Kim Oppenheimer, her mission is to deliver pens and pencils directly to children at minimum costs in order for them to have easier access to education. Having a proper writing tool will encourage learning and has the potential to change a child’s life.

Right-to-Write
Develop Africa

Develop Africa
This organization collects school supplies from donations and sends them to underprivileged schools in Africa. Something as simple as owning a writing tool can be the key to a successful education. You’ll be helping others and the environment.

Develop Africa
More Ways to Donate

More Ways to Donate

If you don’t want to ship your writing tools overseas, try reaching out to local organizations that could benefit from your donation, like churches, schools, and daycares. Instead of letting them sit unused in the trash, you could be helping out someone in need.

The Bottom Line

Recycling pens and pencils isn’t easy, but there are still ways you can go green. Whether you reduce, reuse, or recycle your writing utensils, you’re sure to make a difference in the long run.

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten’s vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several hit articles. She has also published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.