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Human Effort Materials

27: Biodegradable ballpoint pens

Problem:

Over three billion ball point pens – 18 billion grams, 40 million  pounds – are shipped into the USA each year, with most of them winding up in landfills, or rivers, lakes and oceans.

Solution:

Biodegradable ball point pens.

BiC

From 2003  Société BIC of Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine, France – more commonly known as BiC –  set up a team of 25 researchers to transform their commitment to sustainable development into ecological solutions that must constitute competitive advantages for the Group.

After five years of extensive research and development the BiC team in France learned to develop PLA (Poly-Lactic-Acid) from corn, with which by 2008 they were able to produce a precision shaver handle.

From this BiC built up a new line of stationery products, including pens which they trade-marked as “Ecolutions”.

BiC became the first manufacturer of writing instruments to earn NF Environment certification.

A full range of nineteen BIC products has been granted this ecolabel, including historical products such as the BIC Cristal® and the BIC 4-Colors™ ballpoint pen, as well as the pens in the BIC Ecolutions line, manufactured using recycled materials (at least 50%) in compliance with the standard ISO 14021.

For example, the BIC® Matic Ecolutions® mechanical pencil contains 65% recycled materials. All stationery lines now include at least one product made with alternative (e.g. recycled) materials. In 2019, BIC added the Kids Evolution Ecolutions colouring pencils to this range. (bicgraphic.eu)

PaperMate

On the other hand, from 2010, Paper Mate of Oak Brook, Illinois used Mirel, a bioplastic whose primary raw material is corn sugar (dextrose) derived from a corn wet milling process, to launch a line of biodegradable pens, and pencils, including the Gel 0.7, that feature components that break down in soil or home compost in the space of a year.

Pilot
Five years later,  Pilot Corporation of Tokyo, Japan developed the Bottle to Pen (B2P) Line of writing instruments, which are the world’s first pens made from recycled plastic water bottles.

The plastic from one bottle can be used to create approximately two B2P pens. PET plastic from bottles are used for much of it, so it is sometimes nicknamed the ‘PetPen’ or ‘PetBall’. (jetpens.com)

Other solutions

In 1998, a team led by Yasumichi Iwasi at the Mitsubishi Pencil Co Ltd in Tokyo had obtained Japanese patent JP2000043470A for “a Composting decomposable writing instrument to decompose and return it to soil by adopting biodegradable fiber for obtaining biodegradable performance even in inner members (nib, inner cotton).”

Their solution was a nib and inner cotton formed of lactic lactone of polylactic acid (PLA).

In 2009, Leon Ransmeier and Erik Wysocan of DBA, New York, obtained a patent for a pen made from potato-based plastic which could be composted within 180 days.

The only catch was the stainless steel nib – which made up 2% of the pen and was left behind.

The ink reservoir stored a non-toxic ink. The plug, cap, ink reservoir and main housing were all formed from biodegradable, non-toxic materials. The pens would be made in a wind-powered factory and packaged in 100% recycled and recyclable FSC-certified paper printed with vegetable-based inks.

Although, the DBA98 (98% biodegradable) was launched as the “green pen” with a publicity event at the Standard Hotel in New York, the company was unable to overcome some of the obstacles inherent in the pursuit of challenging conventional, outdated practices and the pen, as well as DBA’s endless notebook made of 100% recycled paper, were never manufactured.

bicgraphic.com; Yigal Azrouel, “Hollywood And Fashion Stars Turn Out To Celebrate A New Eco-Pen,” Styelcaster, 2010.

Discover solution 28: Bamboo silk.

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3 replies on “27: Biodegradable ballpoint pens”

Chinagraph pencils and charcoal pencils come wrapped in paper with a pull string running through them so you can unwrap as needed. They have been around for decades. It’s great that finally we are moving towards totally recyclable writing implements rather than the ‘use today throw away tomorrow’ plastics. The biggest issue is how you convince the bulk of the general public, small and large organisations to purchase these items. There has to be an incentive to purchase them over the environmentally unfriendly ones or a law that only allows the compostable ones to be sold.

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