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  • Writer's pictureRebecca

The n(i)b of the problem

On Saturday after our open day in St Peter Port, us intrepid ladies set off like a band of ninja litter pickers - honed for the task at heel. We delved into the pebble beach next to Victoria Pier in St Peter Port, picking litter high and low. The area is both wealthy and salubrious being the usual haunt of those who enjoy a tipple in the day, either sat on the steps next to the public loos or in the overlooking cafes and restaurants.

Unfortunately thirty minutes certainly didn't finish the job but, knowing we had already made a difference, we gathered together, opened up our bags and peered in. It's not a competition but we do like a little show and tell...Many, many cigarette butts, electrical tape, disposable wipes and then: "Look I found a false nail!". Lesley had won.

She also found a Bic biro missing most of its barrel which reminded me about a link to Crayola's 'recycling' scheme that a friend kindly sent me. No more digging in the sand, time for a little internet digging.

Crayola has a collection scheme for its felt tip marker pens available in the USA but not in the UK. As Crayola makes 465 million markers annually, some sort of recycling policy makes a lot of sense as that's a heck of a pile of plastic otherwise heading for landfill and our environment. The scheme (#ColorCycle) is to collect felt tip markers and convert their chemical energy into electricity or transportation fuel. Crayola don't say which companies or processes they use to do this anymore but in the past they worked with a company who used a pyrolysis process to turn the plastic into a transport fuel. By heating and pressuring plastic with temperatures of between 400 and 1000 deg C with reduced oxygen, the plastic doesn't burn but converts into other hydrocarbons in solid, liquid or gas form.

Of course, a felt tip pen is made of a number of components: barrel, lid, nib and ink reservoir. The barrel and lid are made of #5 polypropylene, a recyclable material, which is also used to make cartons and yoghurt pots. Polypropylene is combustible and would likely be a useful addition to any Energy from Waste (incineration plant). Once we turn it into energy though we have lost that valuable pen barrel and lid which could be reused and the valuable material that could be recycled into something new. So, in an ideal world, we and they could do better than turning the plastic into energy, the lid and the barrel could be recycled and in our municipal recycling systems if sorting technologies could enable it.

This would require technology investment at the sorting plant, and therefore money to be spent by local councils. Should the manufacturer invest in this, or the purchaser be charged such that they alter behaviour to choose a more sustainable alternative than a felt tip pen? This is the "polluter pays" principle.

Let's say we love our felt tip pens, and despite the progress of technology, want to hold their bright tips aloft from the age of 8 to 80 as a symbol of our ability to find mindfulness in colouring in butterfly motifs. Sadly, as the colour grows thin, we shed a tear and remember that pesky issue of them being made of parts we need to separate, unless someone invents a felt tip pen un-making machine. Despite our centred and relaxed state, this is not a process, we can be bothered to spend much time on: they should design these things to be easily detachable and herein lies a problem: easily detachable parts would create a choking hazard unacceptable to many parents. As some of us send our children and grandchildren back to school, we might at first find it interesting to ask:

  • How should Crayola redesign a felt tip pen to make it more recyclable?

  • Should we move onto crayons and pencil crayons as our new bastions of colour?

But more broadly:

  • Should we put pressure on manufacturers to do better than put in place collection and energy recovery schemes and really think about how to design to be made and made again?

And then, lo and behold, I find that Bic is at least working in the UK on the recycling side through Terracycle with the Writing Instruments Recycling Programme. It collects "Any brand of pen, felt tip, highlighter, marker, correction fluid pot, correction tape, mechanical pencil and eraser pen regardless of their composition" and their collection locations are in this handy map. This is a recycling process and the pens are "separated by material composition, cleaned and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled products". We hope that this renewed plastic will even be able to be used to by Bic in their ecolutions range to create a closed loop system by turning them back into pens for this years' budding creatives.


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