A happy ending for old pens and pencils

With just a little bit of effort, that pen you’re holding could be turned into much more than just a pen. It could be turned into a garbage can, a kite or tote bag—or some other creatively “upcycled” product.

This process of upcycling—in which products that aren’t recyclable in the normal waste stream are instead reused to make other things—is now happening to pens at Penn. The Writing Instruments Brigade is collecting all varieties of pens and pencils with the goal of giving them new lives as yet-to-be-determined products.

JoAnn Murphy, director of purchasing at the University, is heading up the upcycling initiative, and says donations of all writing instruments (working and non-working) are welcome—from ballpoint pens, highlighters and dry erase markers, to pencils, crayons and Sharpies.

The program is a joint effort between the University and Office Depot, the pen manufacturer Sanford, and TerraCycle, a company that manufactures upcycled products of all stripes, including holiday bows made from Clif Bar wrappers, pencil cases from Chips Ahoy! cookie sleeves and clocks from old vinyl records.

Campus pen and pencil donations benefit a good cause: for each writing instrument that Penn recycles, the University will receive two cents designated for the Green Fund. The Green Fund awards grants to environmentally friendly projects generated by the Penn community. These Green Fund projects support the goals and objectives outlined in Penn’s Climate Action Plan, which strives to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and enhance its overall sustainability.

The Writing Instruments Brigade was launched at the RecycleMania kickoff event on Jan. 25, and Murphy says the collection effort is ongoing. Volunteers are needed from offices and buildings around campus to set up writing instrument collection boxes. These volunteers need to periodically check their collection boxes and contact Murphy for a UPS prepaid mailing label so the pens, markers and pencils can be shipped off to TerraCycle.

You never know—that dried-up highlighter that’s still sitting in your desk drawer could soon become a smart new bag, garbage can or flowerpot.
To volunteer or get more information on the program, contact Murphy directly at joannmur@upenn.edu.

Originally published on February 18, 2010