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Pens are new addition to list of things we recycle

September 14, 2012

Photo: Pens that can be recycled

By Dave Jones

Here at UC Davis we recycle bottles and cans, cardboard and Styrofoam, CDs and DVDs, fluorescent bulbs and sticky notes, toner and inkjet cartridges, batteries and electronics, and even wine corks. And paper, of course.

But what about our pens? Starting today (Sept. 14), we can recycle those, too, and other, selected writing implements — adding more “cool” to UC Davis’ recent ranking as the nation’s “Coolest School” in Sierramagazine’s evaluation of sustainability in higher education.

Materiel Management, a longtime champion of campus sustainability efforts, is spearheading our newest recycling opportunity, by joining up with the TerraCycle Writing Instruments Brigade.

“Writing instruments?” Why not just call them “pens?”

Because TerraCycle Inc. takes any type of plastic-encased device: pens, mechanical pencils, markers and highlighters (the caps too!). And those correction tape dispensers that we sometimes use to erase what we wrote!

But nothing encased in wood or metal. TerraCycle wants only the plastic for reuse in the company’s line of consumer products — storage bins, for example.

Pens comprise the biggest recycling opportunity for the Writing instruments Brigade at UC Davis — we bought more than 150,000 pens from OfficeMax last year! (And some 24,000 pencils, but more on those later.)

Up until now, when a pen ran out of ink, we threw it in the trash. Now OfficeMax (which sells some of TerraCycle’s products) has partnered with Materiel Management to keep our used pens out of the landfill.

TerraCycle also makes use of waste that cannot usually be recycled, say, because of its material or shape. This is called “upcycling,” in which the material is cleaned and repurposed, or reformed to create new products — a backpack made from Capri Sun drink pouches, for example.

“TerraCycle is on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste,” the company declares on its website. “We do this by creating waste collection programs (each one is called a ‘brigade’) for previously nonrecyclable, or difficult-to-recycle, waste.”

TerraCycle enlists people and organizations worldwide to join the company’s more than 40 brigades, each targeting a specific recycling opportunity. They include food packaging and Solo Cups, and flip-flops and paired shoes.

In most brigades, TerraCycle covers the cost of getting the collected material to the company. And, for each item you turn in, TerraCycle awards 2 cents to the charity or school of your choice, or an equal amount for charitable gifts (farm animals or fresh drinking water projects, for example).

There is no final decision yet on where UC Davis’ 2 cents per writing instrument will go. Some may be used to offset the cost of packaging the pens and other writing instruments for shipment to TerraCycle (the company pays for the shipping), while the rest would go to the campus’s Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability for further efforts in sustainability.

Pens go in interoffice envelopes

To recycle writing instruments at UC Davis, simply put them in an interoffice envelope, address it to “Pen Recycling” and leave the envelope with your outgoing campus mail. You can even turn in your pens from home.

Mail Services personnel will pick up your pens and get them to TerraCycle. “The beauty of the program is that it’s simple for the participants, and we’re not adding any carbon footprint, since we pick the pens up on our regular mail runs,” said Jennifer Carmichael, general manager of Distribution Services.

As for those interoffice envelopes, rest assured: We recycle those, too.

But what about pencils?

The best recycling solution is to stop using them — the wooden variety, that is. Today, companies like TerraCycle are making pencils in which recycled newsprint substitutes for the wood casing; every sharpening reveals new bits of printed pages.

If you still have wooden pencils, use them until they are just stubs, then put the wood casings into compost (after removing the erasers and their metal holders).

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