Plastic Pen Problems

Plastic products

A hot topic these days is the problem we have with single-use plastic products.  We’ve all read about how we’re destroying our wildlife, and indeed our planet, with our plastic rubbish.

So now we’re all making an effort to reduce how much plastic we use and how much plastic we’re throwing away.  And we’re also looking for alternatives to this material.

Or at least we should be.

We’re now taking our re-usable shopping bags with us to the market and supermarket.  We’re buying things in bulk to reduce packaging.  We’re recycling our rubbish like never before.

One of the most talked about single use products that has become the ‘enemy’ is the plastic straw.  So much has been written about the plastic straw, which has led to an almost universal hatred of this previously much loved drinking tool.

plastic straws
Straws are bad news these days

Everyone is looking for an alternative.

Nobody wants to go back to the humble paper straw that a lot of us grew up with.

Paper straws get soggy, it’s true.  Too soggy to finish your drink to the end most of the time.  And do you remember trying to drink a milkshake or thickshake through a paper straw?  Such fun!

So, now we have re-usable metal straws.  And I’ve recently seen that there are now re-usable bamboo straws available on the market.

I rarely find myself with a drink that requires a straw, so I haven’t had to adapt my drinking habits to these new types of re-usable straws.  I also haven’t noticed them yet in cafes, restaurants or bars.  Maybe it will take a while for business owners in Moscow (where I currently live) to catch on.

There’s also been a lot of talk about other plastic items, such as toothbrushes (also now made from bamboo), throw away plastic picnic plates, cutlery, cups, and other single use items.

Today I want to introduce another plastic product into the conversation.

The humble pen.

You all know that I love writing. I wrote about it in this post about letters

Most of all I love writing with a pen, on paper, like we used to do in the ‘old days’.

The pen I’ve used today to write the first draft of this post is made of plastic.

It’s one of those promotional pens that companies make for marketing purposes.   They make them by the hundreds, or even thousands.  And most of the time they’re made of plastic.

Promotional pens are everywhere!

You know the ones.  You probably have some yourself.  They’re from your local mechanic, insurance company, bank etc.  Maybe even your kids’ school or your own workplace.

And why not, they’re free!

I love free stuff.  But how many pens are being made right now?  And how many more do we need?

How many pens do we have?

Take a look in your house, office, or car right now and count how many pens you have lying around.

You probably have pens in your handbag, too.  In the junk drawer in the kitchen.  Don’t  forget to check in the fruit bowl.

They’re everywhere!

You have more pens than you need.  And so do I, by the way.

But, you’ll keep getting more from various places, and you’ll put them somewhere in your home or car or office.  Because we never know when we might need one.

Have you noticed that when you do need a pen, you can’t find one?  Why is that?  We’ve just established that we have more pens than we need, yet when we have to write or sign something, they all seem to have disappeared.

It’s a mystery.

And so we get a new pen (or borrow one and don’t give it back, another great way to add to your pen collection), use it once, and it’s never to be seen again!  What happens to all the pens we bring home?  Where do they go? 

Some of them are down the back of the sofa.  Some of them are in the junk drawer (a lot of them, I would guess).  You’ll even find some of them on the floor of your car.

Do you use all of your pen?

By the way, I have a question for you.

When was the last time you used a pen until there was no more ink in it? 

And another question.  Why is it so hard to do this?

I’ve met only one other person in my life who uses their pens until they run out of ink. 

You have one pen on the desk.  Use it until it doesn’t work anymore.  Put it in the bin.  Get another pen (a free one, or buy one, or ‘borrow’ one) and start using it. Rinse and repeat.

That’s precisely what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m one of those people.

I have one pen on my desk.  I never lose it.  And when I’m at home I only use this one.  The day it runs out, I will put it in the bin, open my ‘junk drawer’, (which contains all the free, promotional pens I’ve collected over the past few years), and get a new one.

And, I have one pen in my bag, which I’ll use until it runs out.

I get some kind of strange satisfaction when my pen finally runs out. The last of the ink so faint on the page it’s impossible to read.

And only then I put my pen in the rubbish.  It’s been used to the end of its life, as it should be.

What’s my message?

So, what am I trying to say here?  Well, two things probably.

Firstly, if we all stop buying pens and use only the promotional ones that we can get for free (or, vice versa, stop taking the free ones and only buying what we need), or just use the ones we already have, then this will reduce the number of plastic pens that are manufactured, and subsequently lost/put in the rubbish.

And secondly, if we all try to use our pens until the ink runs out, we’ll use our pens for longer.  This means we won’t have to buy so many.  We won’t be throwing away or losing perfectly good pens.

I’ve got a drawer full of pens that I’ve ‘collected’.  I’ve calculated that if I use every one of these pens until the ink runs out, I won’t have to buy another pen in my life!  (I’ll let you know how that works out.) 

So, what do you think?  Is it unrealistic to expect people to use a pen until the ink runs out?  Are pens contributing in a negative way to our worldwide plastic rubbish problem? (it’s been reported that Americans throw away 1.6 BILLION pens each year!  There isn’t, however, any statistics about whether those pens are still full of ink or not).  Here’s an interesting article on the topic. 

Have you counted how many pens you have in your possession?  Have you thought about what’s happened to all the pens you’ve had over the years?   Where are they now – down the back of your sofa, in the rubbish dump, or somewhere in between?

Tell me your pen stories!

~ Cheryl

Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

14 thoughts on “Plastic Pen Problems”

  1. Hi Cheryl. I also use a pen until it runs out of ink and then we buy more. I try to keep them in the same place, which is either in the pocket of my back pack or in my night table drawer. I use a pen for writing in a journal that I’ve kept all my life and now for writing the rough draft of a blog post. I thought I was the only one that did that, too. I really hate anything made of plastic and I would prefer to have a Swarovski pen like we bought for my daughter, but so far I have not bought one for myself. Always enjoy your posts. Writing to you from Chiatura. Cheers.


    1. Hi Christina, so interesting that you also use a pen til the end of the ink! I know some ‘younger’ people don’t even use pens these days! Everything is done on their phones. 😦 I’m hoping to reduce my plastic consumption in the coming months/years – I’m not sure about a Swarovski pen, but maybe there’s something else out there I could find. Thanks for the kind words, so nice to hear from you. I hope everything’s going well in Chiatura for you both. 🙂 x


  2. I’m old enough to remember–barely–refillable fountain pens. I also remember the amount of ink I wore. I’d like to think that at this stage in my life, I wouldn’t wear quite as much of it but I’m not sure.


    1. Hello Ellen, I’m not old enough to remember the refillable fountain pens, but I would love to own one, even if it meant wearing ink! I’m sure you’d manage the task of refilling it a bit better these days. 🙂 In any case, I wonder if using a fountain pen would be as romantic a writing experience as I imagine it to be… Thank you so much for reading and commenting, I do appreciate it. 🙂


      1. And thanks for responding. Not everyone bothers. I might be able to handle refilling a bit better these days, but it’s hard to say. The motion of the pen across the paper was nice, but it took the ink a little while to dry, so it was easy to smudge it. (Another chance to wear it.) That was especially a problem for left-handers.


      2. Hi Ellen, I have used a ‘cartridge pen’ in the past, which although is a little like a fountain pen it’s not exactly the same – no ink filling! However, I do remember the scratching of the pen across the paper, it was very satisfying to write with it. As I’m right-handed it’s never been a problem for me with ink smudging – unlike for my left-handed husband! You’ve inspired me to try and track down a cartridge pen again – time for some nostalgic writing! Thanks for stopping by again, it’s lovely chatting to you. 🙂


  3. I prefer blue ink pens so all the freebie ones have no appeal to me (they always have black ink for some strange reason). I’m not a hoarder of pens (I have about 3 atm) – but I have a friend that must have 50 or more jammed in a container near her phone – she collects them (crazy!) Also, speaking of straws, we were given a paper one at a cafe recently that was more like cardboard thickness – so no sogginess. I find those re-usable ones a bit dodgy – you’d have to be very thorough with your cleaning technique so that there weren’t any dodgy bits left inside.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM ☺️


    1. Hi Leanne, I also prefer blue pens, and actually all my free pens are blue! Maybe it’s just in Russia, or maybe something’s changed in the promo pen world. 🙂 I like the sound of the thick straws, that would be great if it takes off. I’m also not sure about the reusable ones, I’d hate to think who had used it before me and if it was cleaned properly or not. I love that you used the word ‘dodgy’ – there are some things that I miss about Australia and some of the colourful language is one of them! So nice to see you here, thank you! 🙂


  4. Hey Cheryl. I try to minimize my earth footprint as best I can and I admit I use a lot of pens BUT I’m a pen snob, lol. I do buy the nicer gel pens. Nobody else gets to use them and I use them until they run out.

    Yet now I think I’m going to search for a refillable pen, that would be better for the earth and maybe even my pocketbook.



    1. Hi Allison! I used to be a pen snob too, until I moved to Russia and I had to change my priorities in life. 🙂 Now I’m just happy to get one for free! I do like the cartridge pens, though, and I’m thinking of trying to get my hands on one of them. There’s still the plastic cartridge that becomes waste, though, so I might have to rethink that a bit more. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Have a lovely day! 🙂


  5. Hi Cheryl – I use free pens until they run out of ink. I keep one pen in my handbag and one at my desk. I make notes on my phone these days. The pen in my bag is useful when I travel and have to fill out forms at some airports. Any step we can take to reduce unnecessary waste is good.


    1. Hi Natalie, I’m starting to be surprised at how many people use a pen until the end! As I don’t have a smartphone I haven’t migrated to making notes on a phone, and I hope that will never happen! You’re right, a pen is really necessary for travelling, in planes and in airports, and I’m always surprised at how many people don’t have one and have to ask the flight attendants for one. Nice to see you, Natalie, thanks for stopping by. 🙂


  6. Hello Cheryl. I also have pens stashed everywhere, and yet there are times when I cannot locate one–or at least one that I like. 🙂 Once I find one I really like though, I do use it until all the ink is used. I never throw a pen away until it is out of ink or starts leaking. I rarely purchase pens. As you noted, there are plenty of give-aways available–some from the insurance company I work for! By the way, I carry a metal straw with me for drink emergencies! 🙂 When I pack a lunch to work, I also pack washable utensils. I still use too much plastic, but it’s a start. Thanks for the interesting post.


    1. Hi Christie, I just realised after reading your comment that I can’t remember the last time I had a pen leak. Maybe they’re made a little better than they used to be. You’re the only person I know, so far, who has their own metal straw! You’re way ahead of most of the rest of us! Well done! I also use too much plastic, but it’s one of my goals for 2020 – reduce the amount of plastic I use, especially when travelling (which I plan to do a lot of next year!). Thanks for dropping by and commenting. 🙂


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