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Pens, Labels and Other Not Readily Recyclable Things

We cannot keep pretending everything is alright.

The pen I "borrowed."

The pen is a wonderful invention, the keyboard too; but the pens of today are not the pens or feathers or chisels which facilitated the delivery of words in the past. A pen, like the one in the picture, a Pilot pen I had borrowed (more like allowed myself to avail of) from my dad, is an engineered piece of work, but unlike its predecessors, this modern day instrument is not biodegradable. When buried, that is, if it makes it to the graveyard, i.e. landfill, intact, it will remain there for generations to come. What a legacy!

I already lost the cap which goes with the pen. “Always replace the cap after use,” the pen’s barcode label reminds me, an instruction which will not help bring back the cap. I lost the same cap once before, but found it when I was moving the furniture around to mop the floor. It helps that I am not going out much nowadays, so my environmental misdemeanor of losing a piece of plastic did not get a chance to develop into a crime. But the cap represents only part of the challenge.

Pens, like other items we use to document our thoughts, but don’t give much thought to, are not being actively collected for recycling everywhere in the world where they are being used, and neither are the barcode labels (which are plastic) for that matter. The next time you have a close encounter with a pen or label, take your time to revel at this marvel of sticky inventions.

For a long time, I liked to acquire writing instruments and notebooks, but there came a point in my life when I realized I did not need to depend on paper and plastic to communicate my thoughts or to organize my day. I trained myself for a while to use my phone and laptop instead, and not to buy any more printed books. This worked for a while until I realized that our digital carbon footprint and electronic waste is also an environmental threat.

There is no greater threat to the environment than that of our existence. We are the ones who managed, with our intellectual prowess, and pioneering flair, to pollute the air we breath, the water we drink from and the food we eat with greenhouse gases and microplastics, while making sure we exploit every bit of lazy non-renewable fossil fuel energy we can. The irony is that we have become too urbanized to realize that we are one with the environment, i.e. “we’re toast!”


As I was writing this, I took a moment to check out Pilot’s US page, and found an endorsement by “Overachiever” Priyanka Chopra Jonas. What a coincidence! Through ahlanwasahlan think tank llc, we had quoted Jonas’s “Science tells us we have 10 years to take action on climate change,” in an Instagram post for our TEDx Countdown event which took place last month, and responded that the use of plastics releases the equivalent of the annual emissions in carbon dioxide of 10 to 45 percent of U.S. drivers per year.

Screenshot from on 11 November 2020.

Also on Pilot’s US page, I found a listing of their pen which is made from recycled bottles. The keyword here is “bottles.” Pilot Corporation which has existed since 1918 and is making its products available around the developed, developing and underdeveloped world through 13 subsidiaries has not taken the initiative to recycle its own pens into new pens, but will gladly make us more pens out of bottles we can stop using. They boast that the pens are the “world’s first pens made from recycled bottles,” but they do not tell us why those pens are not being made using the plastic from the old pens, or why plastic pens are so cheap that we do not even consider replacing the equally not readily recyclable ink tube. I was gifted this pen once by a participant in a workshop I held on plastic waste; he had stars in his eyes.

The reason I do not have stars in my eyes is that I believe problems do not solve themselves if we keep addressing the wrong challenge.


Incidentally, another coincidence (it seems that it was written in the stars that I write or type this article), yesterday, an artist who had been collecting donated pens to create “recycled pen art” permanently suspended pen donations.

Screenshot from on 11 November 2020, 11:00am GST.

The Pilot pen featured in this article, has also been featured in a video recording of a session where I was addressing recycling FAQs in the United Arab Emirates. In the session, we reference a pilot project for the source segregation of waste which we worked on.

On getting to zero waste to landfill with Basem Abusneineh from Bee'ah.

The recording along with the transcript can be accessed here.


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