It's a surprisingly complicated issue. Recycling things is good, obviously. For the environment. And that's important. But when you start to actually think about specifics, things can get tricky. A ballpoint pen made from recycled plastic is good. But if it gets thrown in landfill after one use, it's not so great - but still better than non-recycled plastic being thrown away. Buy refills and re-use the same ballpoint five times, and you've had a much bigger impact.

Wooden pencils are good for the environment because they're biodegradable, while a mechanical pencil is plastic or metal, and usually isn't. But wooden pencils are bad for the environment because they're made from trees, and only used once, while a mechanical pencil can be used for many years, only adding more leads - but the leads usually arrive in plastic tubes! My brain hurts.

So doing the very best thing may be difficult, but it's still very worthwhile to make the effort to do a bit better. We think, if you like wooden pencils, use them. Most good brands will have good environmental credentials, using sustainable wood. If you like mechanical pencils, use those. If you're using it for years, the impact of that pencil won't do much harm.

With some products, the recycling element seems almost like a brand in itself - with more fuss made about it than any impact it could have on the environment deserves, but is that entirely a bad thing? If the item itself is a nice thing that you're going to get a lot of use out of, it can act as a continuous reminder for you to take a little more care where you can, and perhaps that could have a bigger impact than any pen, pencil or notebook could in itself.

So, given the complexity of all this, and the potential value in a nice product that makes you think, we won't try to offer verdicts the real environmental benefit of these products - we'll just enjoy them as they are.

Back Pocket Coffee Cups

Back Pocket Coffee Cup Notebooks

One of the top targets for environmental concerns is disposable coffee cups. Re-usable cups are available, and can even be much nicer to use, but sometimes you don't have one with you, and a disposable cup is just easier. So we just feel a little guilty about our coffee.

Well, Rob Draper has his own way of recycling his coffee cups. He makes art on them. The cup becomes his canvas.

And G . F Smith have a slightly more conventional way of recycling coffee cups - they recycle them into paper. That's a surprisingly difficult thing to do, but they've partnered with CupCycling, who use a special process to remove the layer of plastic that keeps paper cups from leaking, giving access to the quality paper that makes up 90% of the cup. The plastic that's been removed is recycled in other ways, being turned into things like insulation and electrical cabling.

Back Pocket Notebooks had a great idea - bring the two together. So designs made by Rob Draper now feature on the covers of their Coffee Cup notebooks, made from G . F Smith's Extract paper. Art made on a coffee cup becomes the cover for a notebook filled with paper made from coffee cups.

Caran d'Ache Nespresso

849 Nespresso

Nespresso pods are very lifestyle coffee pods - so much so that they hired George Clooney to sell them. Their machines do make rather good coffee, though, with smaller and simpler pods than some alternatives. Part of the package with Nespresso is that the pods can be recycled - they're aluminium, and they can be returned, free of charge, to be recycled. Which left them with the question of what to do with all that aluminium.

The Caran d'Ache 849 is the classic Swiss ballpoint pen. A simple, minimalist design, wrapped around a reliable refill that lasts a long time. They are strong and light, because they're made from aluminium.

So it made a lot of sense for them to work together. A special edition 849 pen, using the finish colour from Nespresso's 'Darkhan' capsules (long roasted and velvety, with hints of bitter cocoa powder and toasted cereal), wrapped in 100% recycled card packaging.

Pilot B2P

Pilot B2P

Plastic water bottles are another prime target for recycling, or even avoiding. There are all sorts of good alternatives now, made from silicone, stronger plastics, or metal; and they can be used hundreds of times, saving all those bottles from being thrown away. But the single-use plastic bottle is still around. Even if you do have a reusable bottle, sometimes you just don't have it with you, or you're thirsty and there's nowhere to fill it. So you buy a bottle of water, and feel a bit bad about binning the bottle.

Well, Pilot are trying to help. They're re-using the plastic from those water bottles to make the B2P - the Bottle 2 Pen. It's available as a ballpoint or a gel-ink rollerball, and both are refillable, so you can use them many times over. The gel version uses the same refill as the ever-popular Pilot G2 gel pen, while the ballpoint uses the same refill as most of Pilot's retractable ballpoint pens, making them both reasonably easy to get refills for.

There are a couple of nice touches here - firstly, Pilot have made the design of the pens look like a water bottle, with a hint of blue in the clear plastic, and ridged patterning in the barrel that echoes the sort of shapes used in water bottle designs. The ballpoint version even uses a retract button made to look like a water bottle's cap. Secondly, they quite literally have a nice touch. They have the same smooth and pleasant feel to them that a water bottle does, which makes them very comfortable to hold.

Not Really Recycled

Some things that aren't recycled still have good environmental credentials - there are other ways to be better for the environment than just recycling.


e+m Wooden Products

Making wooden things means cutting down trees, and trees generally look better when they're upright. Not all wood is bad, though, and responsibly-sourced wood with FSC-certification comes from carefully managed forests. Many wooden pencils and other products are made with 'good wood' (not the same as Goodwood, and nowhere near as fast) but we'll give a special mention to e+m Holzprodukte, German manufacturers of some beautifully crafted products, almost all made from natural wood.

Refillable Pens

The environmental impact of anything is reduced if you can re-use it. That single-use water bottle does less harm when you refill it from the tap and use it again, even if the manufacturer says you shouldn't! Pen Refills Any pen that can be refilled can be better for the environment if you refill it instead of binning it. You may be surprised at how many basic ballpoints and rollerballs can be refilled, and many of the most popular pens have refills available.

We always try to stock refills for any pen where refills are available, in some cases going so far as to import refills that aren't normally available in the UK directly from Japan.

Many pens use standard types of refills, like D1 'multipen' refills, G2 'Parker-style' refills, or 'euro format' rollerball refills. These are great, because you'll have lots of choices - not only making it easier to find a refill when you need one, but meaning you can find one that really suits your writing style, or with the ink colour you like.

One idea that's emerged in recent years is the multipen that's supplied without refills, like the high-end Zebra Sharbo-X range or the great value Pentel Sliccies. With these, you buy the pen body, and rather than having a set of refills in colours and line widths that might not be useful to you, you pick the refills you actually want to go with them. So the Sharbo-X can have a 0.3mm pencil mechanism, which is otherwise very rare in multipens. You could set up your Sliccies with super-fine refills in three shades of orange, if that's your thing; or fill it with black refills in three different line widths - whatever you want to use.

There's a lot to be said for buying a nicer pen that you'll enjoy using more, and that you know you actually will keep hold of and refill. Even if the pen itself isn't recycled, the impact after years of use is going to be very small.

Fountain Pens

Perhaps the ultimate in refillable pens, any fountain pen that can use bottled ink can be used for years with a very low impact on the environment. Cartridges do still mean throwing away a small amount of plastic each time, but a converter or other bottle-fed fountain pen can be used for a long time on one bottle of ink. And at the end, you have an empty glass bottle, which can be easily recycled or reused.

A reasonably priced fountain pen should last for many years of use, or even last a lifetime. They'd be the perfect solution to environmental impact if we could manage to avoid the temptation of buying more!

Bottled Ink

1 August 2018


  • Paul C 6 August 2018

    Thank you for this blog post. I was going to contact you about this subject as the publicity about plastic in the oceans has made me think about how we use plastic. Seeing photos of the stomach contents of a young albatross with some pen refills in there (it isn't pretty but it is a google search away) has made me look at the ink cartridges and other pen litter I throw away in a new light. I have largely shifted my pen use over to a bottle refilled fountain pen and I don't intend to buy a one use pen ever again. Sorry!

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