Not Evangelism

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On the Environmentalism of Pens

When was the last time you threw a pen away because it had run out of ink?

Honestly, how many times have you ever done this?  And, by contrast, how many times have you had a pen that was easily half-full of ink, but just wouldn't write, and so you lobbed it into the bin in frustration? Maybe you snapped one in half, its frail plastic body no match for your sour mood. Or perhaps you chewed your way through it so far that it was no longer usable and prematurely ended its life in the trash.

I'd guess that most of us recognise these scenarios, and each one of us has chucked away tens, if not hundreds of pens. That's an awful lot of pens ending up in landfill; not because they've been drained of the last drop of ink, not because they have come to the end of their life having completely fulfilled their intended purpose.

That's quite a waste.

Once valued possessions, pens have become ubiquitous, cheap, and crap. Disposable. We don't value them because they no longer have any value. Little plastic sticks that come with every other charity envelope, that loiter in mounds on every bank counter. They're so readily available that we're habituated to them, and such poor quality that we expect no more.  And why would we, when the vast majority of what we see are generic, cheap, rubbish?

This is a shame. We can do better.

We Need to Learn to Value our Writing Instruments

I want to reclaim some pride in our writing instruments - even that phrase is more pleasant, more elegant than "pen".  I want to enjoy the writing process once again, not scratch around with a misery-inducing plastic ballpoint, half-chewed, uncared for. Perhaps one of the reasons that there's less and less written word is the crappy little tools we have to do it. Perhaps we value writing so little because of the tiny value we place on the instruments we use to write.

It doesn't need to be this way. A reasonable ballpoint pen costs as little as £10, and will write for miles on a refill (according to the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association).  I don't have a clear idea of what thousands of feet of writing looks like (I'd love to find out), but that seems like a pretty decent return for a few quid. And they're more often than not metal rather than plastic (yay!) and a pleasure to write with (if not a joy to write with - that costs a little more).  Add to that the satisfaction of using something completely, of spending out. And reducing waste.

Have you ever heard someone say
"I wouldn't spend that sort of money on a pen; I keep losing them."?
To my mind, this is the precise reason to spend more money on a good pen; the careless person will value them more, and keep close track of them, surely never losing them again.

I have a very nice fountain pen, something I get a visceral pleasure from whenever I pick it up.  It's delightful to hold, to write with.  It's refilled using a piston-fill mechanism; no cartridges to fiddle with (and less waste), just glass jars of ink that last a very long time. It's the first pen I have owned that writes first time, every time, no matter how long it's been since I last used it. And fountain pen ink looks beautiful on the page.

It cost a lost of money. I don't lend it out very often. I know where it is right now.

I also have a small selection of all-metal ballpoint pens that I write with day to day, and a half-wooden one that I'm looking forward to seeing change over time, with me; reflecting the way I hold it, the way I write. I use all of them until they run out of ink, then I replace the cartridge.  At time of writing, this event has occurred perhaps three or four times.

Good pens, like watches, get noticed; they attract attention. A great pen is a statement, a talking point. And they're enduring, something to use for years to come, to treasure, to take pride in.  It's time to reclaim our pride in our writing instruments. Let's choose ones we can take pride in, that will last us years, that don't perpetuate habitual, casual, wanton wastefulness.

I think that's something worth spending a few pounds on.

(And if you answered "lots" to the first question, why aren't you using refillable pens?)

No comments:

Post a Comment