Pilot Recycles Plastic Bottles Into Nice New Pens - But Will You Refill Them As Intended?


photo: Matthew McDermott

I don't normally write pen reviews, nor product reviews, nor really cover recycling--Lloyd is TreeHugger's resident recycling pundit. But when I got an email from Pilot Pen asking if I'd be willing to meet with them to talk about their new Bottle 2 Pen project (that's B2p), "the world's first recycled pen made from plastic bottle!", I somehow said yes. Considering that I do like a good pen and am quite particular about them, it seemed appropriate. A few days later I virtually sat down with Pilot Pen VP of Marketing Robert Silberman to fill in the details. Pen From Recycled Bottles, Textured Like One
Like all 10 products in Pilot's BeGreen line, the B2p is made of recycled plastic--in this case 89% post-consumer waste from plastic bottles, while the rest of the line has varying degrees of pre-consumer waste, usually a high amount. It takes a 0.7mm G2 refill in black, blue, or red ink. The body features a retractable tip, includes a shirt pocket clip, with the whole thing styled like a plastic bottle, complete with ridges that provide a modicum of extra grip.

How does it write? Well, 0.7mm is a bit thick for me--I've been favoring 0.38mm refillable pens from Muji for a while now--but the G2 refill ink is good, flowing smoothly across the page. I think I'd prefer a smooth finish on the approximately 3/8ths inch barrel rather than the faux-plastic bottle finish, but I'm sure many people won't mind it. It somehow looks and feels like a stiffer crushed plastic bottle and, even though perfectly sturdy in reality, when I pick it up it seems like I'll crush it some more. Again, chalk up that preference to personal preference more than anything else.

Since the B2p is a refillable pen, and as regular TreeHugger readers should probably know by now plastic is forever, provided you don't break the barrel somehow the pen should last you as long as their are refills available for purchase. Should you wish to dispose of it however, the B2p is technically recyclable. The practical feasibility of this is obviously limited by what your city or town chooses to recycle.

Refills Not Recycled, But Which Ones Are?
The refill, in common with every single pen refill out there that I know of, is not recyclable nor is it made of recycled materials. In other words, there is some waste involved here that will likely not break down in a landfill in a human timescale, if ever.

I asked Silberman about this--that peeve of mine poking at the back of my neck. He responded that it is something to work on. As is increasing the use of recycled materials across the rest of Pilot's products.

Recycled Pens Just 5% of Pilot's Production - Goal Is To Expand That
Currently the BeGreen line is about 5% of all Pilot's production. In the mid-term they hope to expand the use of recycled materials to 15-20% of the product catalog, something currently limited in part by having a consistent supply of high quality recycled materials, either pre- or post-consumer.

Pilot's efforts are laudable and solid, if initial, steps in the right direction towards reusing waste as well as reducing it in the first place. In the package of pens and pencils from the BeGreen line I was sent, only a small number of pens were disposables. Everything else, including white board erasable markers and permanent markers, are refillable and therefore reusable.

Why Make Disposables At All?
It would be nitpicking to ask why bother producing a disposable pen in the first place, even if it's a very valid question. I didn't bring it up. As it questioning whether pen manufacturers ought to have take back programs like electronics manufacturers and as US beverage bottlers used to--and still do in Canada and overseas. I didn't bring that up either.

Reusable Products Are Only As Good As People Reusing Them
Whether consumers stop thinking of an inexpensive pen as a disposable item even when refillable is a bigger issue. Pilot says 30-40% of their refillable pens are actually refilled and not just junked; the industry average is far lower. There was a time historically speaking when a pen wasn't a disposable item and there can be again, even without everyone purchasing high-priced heirloom pens.

Compared to climate change, deforestation, industrial agriculture, endangered species, and peak [insert resource here], disposable pens are admittedly pretty low on the scale of seriousness. It's a waste management issue far more than an existential one.

But the shift in thinking required to move beyond disposability is the same one that has to take place to tackle these bigger problems: Decreasing use of non-renewable materials, considering the entire lifecycle of products made from non-renewable resources and renewable resources alike, questioning our expectations when it comes to appropriate levels of resource consumption and consumer goods.

Refillable plastic pens made from recycled materials may not be heirloom design, but it's a step in the right direction if you choose to refill.

Pilot Pen's B2p is already available in certain markets and will be available more widely in May.

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More on Recycling:
Recycling is Bullshit; Make Nov. 15 Zero Waste Day Not America Recycles Day
In New York City, Clothing Recycling Program Could Spur Nationwide Movement
New Recycling Process Could Recycle 100% of Plastic Packaging

Tags: Recycling | Reusability

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