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How to Recycle Pens, Pencils, Crayons, Markers, & Highlighters

Alyssa Mertes

Published: October 6th, 2021

You probably have a ton of pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and highlighters at home. After all, in this world of remote working and online school, we all need these office supplies to get through the day.

Do you have broken crayons, unwanted pens, or dried out markers lying around? This guide is here to help you sustainably get rid of all that clutter, once and for all!

Learn how to recycle or repurpose your writing tools!

Pens

Can You Recycle Pens?

Flower and pencil

Unfortunately, pens are not easy to recycle. In order for your pens to be accepted, you have to first separate them into their different parts. Contact your local recycler to see if they'll take your old pens before you take the time to sort them into different pieces.

Cheap pens are usually made of two different types of plastic : polystyrene (PS) and polypropylene (PP). Luxury pens, on the other hand, are created using stainless steel or aluminum. Either way, these materials aren't always accepted for recycling, so it's much better to repurpose or donate your old pens if possible.

Flower and pencil

What Can You Do With Old Pens?

It's not easy to recycle old pens so you should do what you can to reuse, repurpose or donate them instead. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep your pens out of the waste bin!

Do you have too many pens taking up space at home? Sustainably get rid of them by doing any of the following:

recycle pen

Host a Pen Recycling Party

Get your friends and family together to do a "pen swap." You can exchange pens for other office supplies like sticky notes or paper clips, or trade them for household essentials like toothpaste, Q-tips, or Ziploc bags. This is a green way to get rid of old pens and a good excuse to spend time with the people you love!

 penart

Support the Arts

The Pen Guy, a.k.a. Costas Schuler, will take your unwanted pens and use them for his next project. To date, he has collected more than 10,000 old pens that he welds together to create furniture, murals, and other works of art.

terra

Send Your Pens to TerraCycle

TerraCycle can take care of all your pen recycling needs! Mail your dried out or extra pens to their center by purchasing a Zero Waste Box. Bic has also partnered with their site specifically for the disposal of their products.

butterfly

Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

Scarce, a nonprofit in Addison, IL, accepts gently used school supplies. They prevent the supplies from going to landfills and instead put them into the hands of kids who need them. Send in your pens as well as other school supplies like markers, rulers, calculators, binders, and pocket folders.

How to Repurpose Pens

Recycling is great, but it's much better to find new uses for your old pens. Upcycle them into something new. There are plenty of fun projects you can try, so get out the craft supplies and be creative!

Old pens can be repurposed into:

  • Chandeliers or lamp shades
  • Stick dolls
  • Toy tents
  • Styluses
  • Flowers
Chandelier https://inhabitat.com

Chandeliers or Lamp Shades

Stick Dolls https://new.smalljoys.tv/

Stick Dolls

Toy Tent with doll https://new.smalljoys.tv

Toy Tents

Stylus https://www.creativebloq.com

Styluses

Flowers in vase https://thecheekyhomemaker.com

Flowers

You can also use highlighters, pencils, or markers to complete these upcycling projects. They make for great rainy day activities to do with your kids. Get crafty!

Tips to Make Your Pens Last Longer

Most people use disposable pens even though they're not the best for the environment. Keep the planet healthy by making your pens last as long as possible.

Try any of the following to make your pens last longer:

upsidedown

Store pens upside down

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

Keep the cap on

Ink dries when it reaches air so you shouldn't leave your pens uncapped. Do you have a pen that doesn't have a cap like a retractable pen or twist pen? Make sure the tips aren't exposed when they're not in use.

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.

Rehydrate felt tips with vinegar

Felt-tip pens can be revived with a little bit of vinegar. Rather than submerging the pen, place the tip in the vinegar for only a few seconds.

Soak the pen

Try placing your pens in a cup of hot water or rubbing alcohol to get the ink flowing again. Just remember not to keep the pens in the water for too long or you risk causing even more damage.

hot air

Blow air into the ink cartridge

Sometimes the ink can clog inside of the pen's tube. Remove this piece and try blowing compressed air inside to fix the problem.

damp towel

Use rubber or a damp cloth

Ballpoint pens and gel pens get clogged from time to time. Wipe the pen on a damp cloth or try rubbing it on a rubber surface. This can help remove any clumps.


You can also use these strategies for your markers and highlighters. A little bit of mindfulness goes a long way!

Pencils & Colored Pencils

Can You Recycle Pencils?

Flower and pencil

Pencils and colored pencils can be recycled as long as they're made from real, untreated wood. Remove the eraser and metal ferrule first and then recycle the pieces separately. Mechanical pencils cannot be recycled.

2 pencils

What Can You Do With Old Pencils?

Even though you can recycle old pencils, it's much better to upcycle or donate them when they're no longer wanted. This helps keep the planet just a little bit greener.

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

flower

Use Pencils to Grow a Garden

Pencil shavings can be used to make compost, mulch, or pest deterrents. The pencils themselves can be used as sticks that hold labels for your fresh tomatoes and beautiful flowers.

fire

Start a Bonfire With Pencil Shavings

Nothing is better than sitting around the fire on a summer night! Use pencil shavings as kindling so the flames don't burn out too quickly. Now all you need is s'mores, and you're good to go!

Dixon

Bring the Pencils to Dixon

Dixon has partnered with TerraCycle to make it easier to recycle their pencils. The program is totally free and is available in over 8,000 locations across the United States.

heart and hand

Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

Are your pencils still sharp? Help out those in need! Pencils for Kids is a nonprofit that collects pencils for kids in West Africa. Give Write will also take your gently used pencils, and donate them to kids in impoverished areas.

How to Repurpose Pencils

Roll up your sleeves and turn your unwanted pencils into something new. There are a ton of great upcycling projects you can try right at home!

Old pencils or colored pencils can be repurposed into:

  • Ornaments
  • Log cabins
  • Coasters
  • Picture frames
  • Jewelry
pencil ornament https://colormethrifty.com

Ornaments

pencil hut https://new.smalljoys.tv

Log Cabins

pencil coasters https://www.amazon.com

Coasters

pencil frame https://new.smalljoys.tv

Picture Frames

pencil art https://www.boredpanda.com

Jewelry

Pencil jewelry, coasters, and picture frames happen to make great gifts. It's much more heartfelt than something you can buy at a store!

Tips to Make Your Pencils Last Longer

Pencils come from trees that have been chopped down. Since nature has been affected so you can write, it makes sense to get the most use from your pencils.

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

eraser

Buy an eraser

Pencils typically come with a small eraser, but this can get worn out fairly quickly. Buy a separate eraser that you can use while writing.

sharpener

Get a good pencil sharpener

An excellent sharpener will have sharp blades and not weaken the graphite tip. It's worth having one in your classroom if you're a teacher and one at home if you're a parent with kids that have homework to do.

shavings

Don't over sharpen your pencils

Let's say you're in the groove and not paying attention. It's easy to zone out and over sharpen your pencils. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does shorten the life of these writing tools.

rotate

Rotate the pencil

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

extender

Invest in a pencil extender

Artists use pencil extenders for colored pencils, but anyone can purchase one of their own. Once a pencil is too small to hold, you lock it into a pencil extender to return it back to size.

cap

Cap your pencils

If you have an old pen cap lying around, use it on your pencil. This will protect the tip from breaking easily, especially if you're carrying the pencil around in your bag or in a pencil case.

mechanical

Use a mechanical pencil

The lead inside a mechanical pencil can be refilled, which helps cut down on waste. You can continue to replace the lead and will never have to throw the pencil away.

The average pencil has enough graphite to write approximately 45,000 words. You can squeeze a few extra words out of your pencils if you try any of these strategies!

Crayons

Can You Recycle Crayons?

crayon

Crayons cannot be recycled in your curbside bin, and since they’re made from paraffin (a waxy bi-product of petroleum), they aren’t biodegradable. In fact, they can sit in landfills for over 100 years before they break down!

crayon

What Can You Do With Old Crayons?

Coloring is so much fun, but unfortunately crayons aren't the best for the environment. The good news is there are a ton of fun things you can do with old crayons.

melt

Melt the Crayon Wax on Paper

Do you want a fun art project to do with your kids? Use a hair dryer to melt old or broken crayons onto a piece of paper. The wax will create a cool splatter effect. You can then frame your masterpiece, and use it as décor for your kitchen, living room, or office.

mold

Create Wax Molds

Buy silicone molds in any shape you want, whether it's hearts for Valentine's Day, cacti for a desert-themed party, or bride and groom figurines for a bridal shower. You can then fill the molds using the wax from old crayons. Bake them in the oven, pop in the freezer, and you're done!

crayon

Send Your Crayons to Crayola

Did you buy a bunch of Crayola crayons you need to get rid of? Mail them all to their free ColorCycle program. Crayola will recycle all their crayons, markers, and colored pencils for you!

donate

Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

Bring color to someone's day by donating your old crayons to a good cause. The Crayon Initiative and The National Crayon Recycling Program will take your crayons, melt them down, and make new crayons for children in hospitals, inner city art programs, orphanages, and shelters.

How to Repurpose Crayons

It's always a good idea to repurpose your unwanted items into something new. You'll find a ton of fun upcycling projects using crayons, and they're all great for kids!

Old crayons can be repurposed into:

  • Candles
  • Wall art
  • Easter eggs
  • Stained glass
  • Fidget spinners
crayon candles https://www.evermine.com

Candles

crayon art https://www.weareteachers.com

Wall Art

easter eggs https://www.weareteachers.com

Easter Eggs

stained glass https://www.craftfoxes.com

Stained Glass

crayon fidgetspinner http://veeko.co

Fidget Spinners

Markers, Dry Erase Markers, & Sharpies

Can You Recycle Markers?

markers

Markers, dry erase markers, and Sharpies are made from toxic materials. For that reason, you can't easily recycle them at home.

crayon

What Can You Do With Old Markers?

You should reuse or donate your old markers. This is the most eco-friendly solution, and brings new life to your supplies.

Are you cleaning out your stash of markers? Do any of the following!

jump rope

Repurpose the Caps Into a Jump Rope

Connect the caps of your markers together to create an upcycled jump rope. You can hold everything in place by using a strong adhesive like Gorilla Glue. Switch up the colors of the marker caps so you're left with an interesting pattern.

water color

Turn the Markers Into Watercolors

Do you have dried out markers? Saturate the marker's tip with water, and just like that, you now have watercolor paint! Use the paint to give new life to something that's kind of boring like a picture frame or gift box.

markers

Bring Your Sharpies Back to Life

Your Sharpies may seem like they're all dried out, but don't throw them away just yet. Use rubbing alcohol or white vinegar to saturate any marker pens that no longer seem to be working.

house

Support the Arts

The Waste Shed will take markers and other art supplies that you no longer wish to keep. These are then donated to artists and toward community projects in the Chicagoland area.

house

Send the Markers to TerraCycle

You may not know how to recycle markers, but TerraCycle does! Purchase one of their Zero Waste Boxes, and you can send in all of your unwanted markers and Sharpies at one time.

recycle scribble

Work With Crayola

Crayola marker recycling is super easy! All you have to do is look into their ColorCycle program. Crayola will take all of your old crayons, markers, and colored pencils and recycle them, free of charge.

donate

Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

Schoolhouse Supplies is a nonprofit that accepts gently used markers, scissors, pencils, glue, and other supplies. They then donate them to students in Portland elementary schools. Schoolhouse Supplies also has a free store of supplies that teachers can use for their classrooms.

Highlighters

Can You Recycle Highlighters?

highlighters

According to Converse Energy Future, your highlighters are technically recyclable. Since they are made from chemicals, however, you can't just throw them in your curbside bin.

highlighters

What Can You Do With Old Highlighters?

Old highlighters can be recycled, but it's much better for the environment to donate them or upcycle them into something new. Just find a worthwhile cause or fun project to try at home!

Do you want some highlighter recycling ideas? Here are a bunch of easy things you can do:

highligher repurpose

Repurpose the Caps

Don't let your highlighter go to waste! You can repurpose the caps into mini finger puppets or even a step ladder for a dollhouse. Keep them in your craft closet because you never know where or when inspiration will strike!

 highlighers back

Bring Your Highlighters Back to Life

Dip your old highlighters into a cup of rubbing alcohol. This will help revive any ink that's left hiding inside. You can then use your highlighters for a little bit longer.

terra

Send Your Highlighters to TerraCycle

TerraCycle is your one-stop shop for recycling! Gather your highlighters and put them in the same Zero Waste Box as your pens, pencils, and markers. You can then mail them to TerraCycle and keep them out of landfills.

recycle scribble

Work With Crayola

Crayola highlighters can be sent directly to the ColorCycle program. They will then go about either properly recycling the highlighters or repurposing them into new supplies.

africa

Donate to a Worthwhile Cause

Develop Africa is a nonprofit that collects gently used school supplies. Highlighters, pens, and pencils may seem simple, but they give students in Africa the chance at a better education. Donate all of these supplies to their cause!

Shop for Eco-Friendly Writing Tools

Do you run a business? You can make a positive environmental impact by shopping for eco-friendly products. There are a ton of office supplies that are sustainably made and won't end up clogging up landfills after they're used.

Ready to make a difference? Shop for eco-friendly writing tools!

eco pen

Eco Highlighter Pens

colored pencils

Eco Notebook & Colored Pencils

pencil

Recycled Newspaper Pencils

The writing tools featured here are all made from recycled materials. The pens, notebooks, and colored pencils are constructed from kraft paper and natural wood. The pencils, on the other hand, are made from unused newspapers!

Why is Recycling Important?

recycle phone

Recycling is important because it conserves natural resources, prevents pollution, saves energy, and reduces the amount of waste in landfills. We only have one planet, so all of this matters in the end.

recycle phone

The water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat are all impacted by the environment. Alarmingly, we're not doing as good as we can in creating a sustainable world. 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris are in the ocean alone, while 2 million miles of land have been destroyed by waste. That's water we could be exploring and land we can be using!

Whether it's sending your old crayons to Crayola, donating pens to kids in need, or making a cool new jump rope from your marker caps, every little thing you do counts in the end. Start today!

Key Takeaways

Writing tools can be tricky to recycle. Repurposing or donating them are much more green solutions.

Creativity is key. There are a ton of fun upcycling projects that can be done using old pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and highlighters.

Donate your writing utensils to those in need. The following organizations will accept pens, pencils, crayons, markers, highlighters, and other school supplies:

Never throw school supplies in the garbage! Landfills are already full and even something as small as a pen can cause further damage to the planet.

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

The United States throws away 1.6 billion pens every year.

Stats 2 icon

An estimated 75,000 broken crayons end up in landfills every year.

Stats 3 icon

Roughly 400 million dry erase markers are thrown out every year in the United States.

Stats 4 icon

TerraCycle has collected more than 1.3 billion writing instruments since they started their program.

The Bottom Line

Reduce, reuse, recycle. You've been hearing that phrase for years and for good reason. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are over 146 million tons of garbage in landfills. If making a picture frame out of pencils will reduce waste, then it's definitely worth the effort!

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

4 random promtional products 4 random promotional products tablet
Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

References

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SoCraftastic. (2013, September 20). DIY Crayon Candle – Home Décor – How To. Retrieved from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcpmRHRmLEA

Johnson, C. (2015, December 14). A Colorful Tale: Why Leftover Crayons Are Now Being Hospitalized. Retrieved from, https://earth911.com/inspire/crayon-initiative-crayon-recycling/

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Conserve Energy Future. Can You Recycle Highlighters? Retrieved from, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/can-you-recycle-highlighters.php

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Helmenstine, A. (2019, May 30). How to Fix a Dried Out Sharpie. Retrieved from, https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-fix-dried-out-sharpie-607941

Wehrl. Recycle Nation. (2014, May 6). Recycling ‘Nonrecyclable’ Highlighters, Markers, Pens, and Pencils. Retrieved from, https://recyclenation.com/2014/05/recycling-nonrecyclable-highlighters-markers-pens-pencils/

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National Geographic. (2015, January 11). Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting, But Big Questions Remain. Retrieved from, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/ocean-trash-525-trillion-pieces-and-counting-big-questions-remain/

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