How can we recycle ballpoint pens or gel pens when they no longer work?
Consider these scenarios:

1) Cartridge is empty. What we see now is ONLY a plastic stick with a ball point there.

2) Cartridge still has ink left. It may be dried out or the pen refuses to write for other reasons.

Assume the plastic is non-biodegradable.

  • Can the ball points be recycled and re-used in manufacturing?

  • Can the ink be recycled? Is there anything like compostable-plastic ink?


1 Answer 1


The pen you just used up

  • Paper Mate offers a free recycling program that doubles as a charity fund-raiser. Only Paper Mate pens are accepted.
  • Send your used writing instruments to The Pen Guy who uses them in art projects (with the actual pens/pencils, not the ink!). He is aiming to collect one million used pens.
  • In Canada, you can drop off old writing instruments at Staples stores.
  • Many colleges and universities (and even large businesses) run their own recycling collection programs, often collecting items (such as pens) which are not normally recycled by municipal recycling programs.
  • TerraCycle, a US-based small business which specializes in recycling commonly used items which are generally not accepted at municipal recycling centers, will accept boxes of used writing instruments, for a fee. In the past they offered this service for free with sponsor funding (the so-called "Writing Instrument Brigade"), but there is currently no sponsor for the program. But, contact them if you're interested and/or know someone with deep green pockets!

The next pen you buy

Going forward, look for pens which are specifically recyclable or biodegradable: a Google search on each reveals there are dozens of options.

  • Well……it seems that we can make art works using them. But can we solve the problem from the materials(I mean that whether we can add some special things into the plastic stick so as to make it "compostable-plastic")?
    – xqMogvKW
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 2:38
  • @xqMogvKW certainly - but is your question what to do with pens you already have, or what pens should be used going forward to reduce environmental impact?
    – LShaver
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 3:00
  • 2
    @xqMogvKW and LShaver. No, you can't add a substance to an ordinary piece of plastic to make it compostable. At best you may be able to degrade it (fall apart into tiny pieces of plastic).
    – THelper
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:59

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