Pens vs. Pencils…


After writing yesterday’s Paper vs. Plastic blog I found myself sat at my desk pondering plastic product dilemmas. Though the Unpackage Me initiative is focussed on plastic packaging I soon realised that I own all kinds of plastic products for which I am sure there is a perfectly good (if not better) no plastic alternative.

What about all those plastic pens that have accumulated on my desk – would I be better off sticking to pencils? Time to do some investigations!


Every day, 14 million Biros (aka the Bic Cristal) are sold worldwide.

Each Biro contains (amongst other things) 5 grams of plastic.

This means that 70 tons of plastic are made into non-reusable Biros every day.

That’s quite a lot of plastic. In fact, it’s roughly the same weight as the biggest dinosaur ever discovered!

It’s very rare for plastic pens to be recycled so the majority of this plastic will end its useful life in a landfill.

So, should I switch to using pencils all the time to reduce my plastic footprint?


The production of ballpoint pens uses crude oil. However, the production of 50 ballpoint pens only uses about the same amount of oil as driving a car 1 mile which isn’t very much.

Both pens and pencils are manufactures using heat-moulding techniques so the energy used to make both is roughly the same.


Pens and pencils weigh roughly the same which means that the environmental impact from transportation and distribution is roughly even.


This is where pencils start to take the lead…

Bic Biros can write for an impressive 2 km. However, pencils can write for up to 56 km!


Recycling plastic pens is not very viable which means that the majority of them end up in landfill. Pencils tend to end up in landfill too but as they are made from natural materials they are able to biodegrade.

The answer?

Overall pencils seem to come out on top, but (similar to the bag debate) this is only because they have a longer lifespan.

But hang on a second, what about reusable pens?

Yep – that’s a good call. If we buy reusable pens then each time we reuse them then their total environmental impact becomes relatively less. Bic know this and have developed a range of reusable pens, including a refillable Cristal which is certified by the French ecolabel NF environment.

And then there’s always pens made out of biodegradable materials. They are more expensive but that’s a perhaps a small price to pay to know that when I’m finished writing I won’t be contributing to landfill waste…

And lastly, if anyone is wondering what to do with all of the plastic pens that they have gathered in their desk drawers why not send then to the Pen Guy?


The Pen Guy is covering cars with old pens to save them from ending up in a landfill. You can send him your old pens and he’ll recycle them into art or find a place for them on his Mercedes.


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