“This is just a small piece of plastic!” Or how much pollution is caused by the stationery industry?

“This is just a small piece of plastic, what does it matter,” you could think but if we look more closely at how many ballpoint pens we use and throw away every year, the number we get could certainly be quite high. How can you avoid excessive consumption? Is there an alternative for plastic? This post tries to answer these questions and also reveals Etelburg’s response to the issues of sustainability.

“Use them in the garden to mark seeds planted. Send them to a recycling organisation. Use them to make a toy for children.” When we wonder what to do with plastic pens piling up as waste at home or in the office, websites promoting the approach of zero waste suggest these or similar ideas as the ones above. They are not bad but we all feel that these are not the real solution.

Today, overproduction in the stationery industry generates a shockingly high amount of plastic waste, and to make things worse, these are frequently cheap and very poor-quality plastics. According to some estimates, a total of 1.6 billion pens are bought every year in the United States only. In India, the same number could be as high as 2.4 billion a year while 91% of the waste generated is not recycled. As a response to this outrageous rate of production, some Japanese producers made commitments to reducing the amount of plastic used by 30%, however, this does too little to solve the underlying problem of the excessive quantities of waste generated.

Plastic pens

Georgina Wilson-Powell, the author of Is It Really Green? a book discussing everyday green issues also gives the advice that we should be aware of the quantity of plastic pens around us and reconsider the habit of throwing around promotional gifts indiscriminately. “We should stop giving out personalised pens, notebooks with logos and other corporate gifts at board meetings and business conferences,” she writes.

Indeed, promotional pens do not only overfill pen holders but as they are most often than not very poor quality, they are in fact counterproductive as well. Who would want their business to be identified with cheap, bad-quality pens that stop working quickly? Not even mentioning, in addition to environmental problems and bad marketing, that an uncomfortable pen with a bad grip also has an impact on our handwriting.

Etelburg chooses a different approach

“While sustainability should be a central issue in this field as well, we do not even talk about it,” claims Gábor Megyeri, founder and designer of the Etelburg brand. He explains that extended lifetime played a key role in the design of their writing instruments so that their pens may remain functional for long decades, potentially allowing use by more than one generation. All of their products have modular design, which, at the same time, is a serious commitment as it means that not only their current products are compatible with one another but they will also be compatible in the future, i.e. there will not be any product series that do not work together with the previous ones.

Sustainability was also a priority in the selection of the materials of their products. He explains that as aluminium is the only widely used material that can be practically unrestrictedly reused without quality degradation, they make their pens from a particularly hard and durable material used in the aviation industry.

However, everyday use will wear and tear even the hardest materials over time, let’s just imagine that we keep our keys and pen in the same pocket. To ensure that these pens really remain undamaged for generations, we need to protect them. As Etelburg is against unnecessary boxes that you cannot use in your everyday life, the pens of the DPAF series are supplied in size-fitting cases made of genuine leather, which subsequently may be used as pen holders helping to prevent any damage to the pens.

Etelburg DPAF with gift box

In the light of the above, it should come as no surprise that traditional plastic boxes or other non-eco-friendly options were inherently excluded as packaging for Etelburg pens. The Digital Past Analog Futures series is packaged in a minimalist, unprocessed cardboard box. As the partition inside the box is entirely made from plant-based (corn) plastic, it can be collected selectively for recycling. As there are markets and customers insisting on gift boxes, they are available in black or brown from the Etelburg webshop. However, their paper shipping boxes are also recyclable.