You carry your groceries in a canvas bag, and your water in a re-usable bottle. You use compact fluorescent bulbs and dutifully separate paper and glass from trash for the recycling pick-up. But what is that in your pocket? A disposable pen? Why throw away the entire pen, when you could refill the ink?
The most common answer, I would guess, is that disposable pens are inexpensive. You are not worried about losing them because the replacement cost is low. Indeed, they are freely given away as advertising for businesses or hotels. It is hard to attend a conference or meeting without finding one or two of them have hitchhiked a ride in your tote bag. But like most disposable items, there are costs, even if not reflected in the purchase price. In the US alone, at least 1.6 billion pens are thrown away each year. While some pens do get recycled, or donated to organizations like the TerraCycle Writing Instrument Brigades, the majority of these disposable pens are simply contributing to growing landfills.
Wouldn’t it be better to consider a refillable pen that you can continue to use for years? Like your favorite wooden spoon that conjures up pots of soup from dinners past, or the hand trowel you reach for every spring to plant the first flowers, your pens will become your trusted go-to tools. Pen manufacturers have created refillable roller ball, ballpoint, gel and fountain pens at prices that are competitive with throw-away models, and many of these new pen models even get extra points for being made from recycled material!
This review highlights six different inexpensive pens that may make you think twice about purchasing a single-use pen. Since these pens are intended for practical everyday use, I tried them out using a common office supply store notepad.
The “B2P” acronym in the Pilot B2P Gel Ink Pen stands for “bottle to pen”, because the plastic barrels are made from 90% recycled material — mainly plastic water bottles. I reviewed the 0.7 gel ink pen, but there is also a similar ballpoint model.
The clear blue body of the B2P allows you to see the ink level, and thus avoid running out of ink unexpectedly. If you are new to refillable pens, one concern might be the ease of locating the refills. If this is your situation, you might enjoy this choice because it uses the standard G-2 cartridge, which is easy to find in most office supply stores. Refills come in black, red, green or blue and in four sizes of a fine 0.38 to a broad 0.7. The pen is a simple retractable pen with a clip; it does not have a grip. It is lightweight but not flimsy. The grooved body is easy to hold, and it writes with a smooth line. You will want to keep writing with this reincarnated bottle!
Another option from Pilot is the Pilot BeGreen Precise Roller Ball Pen, a model that is also made of around 90% recycled material. The capped pen style has a body in the same color of the ink, with a green band with the name. It comes in black/green and red/green, as well as the blue/green pen reviewed here.
Unlike the standard model, it does not have a clear window for viewing ink levels. The 0.5 point was fine, but bright and clear. The V5 refills come in black and blue, and since the standard V5 is a popular pen, refills should not be hard to find. This is a pen that invites you to draw or play, in between more serious tasks!
These two models by Zebra and Uni-ball are both refillable and retractable, which makes them convenient options if you fear losing pen caps. The Zebra Eco Sarasa Clip is made from 81% recycled material. It is refillable with the same Zebra JF cartridge as the standard Sarasa pen. It has a comfortable grip, and is a reliable gel pen.It is only available in clear plastic with black trim, but 0.7 mm refills come in black, blue and red.
The Uni-ball Jetstream Standard Ballpoint is not made of recyclable material, but it is an great inexpensive, yet refillable ballpoint pen. The standard ballpoint pen comes in candy-esque colors of pink, blue, lavender, black and apricot in addition to the green one reviewed here. The Jetstream ballpoint refills hold more ink than the standard ballpoint model, and they come in black, red, green or blue and in four sizes from fine 0.38 to broad 0.7.
If you own multiple fountain pens, you may want another pen that can also take fountain pen ink cartridges. The Kaweco Classic Sport Roller Ball pen uses the standard international cartridge common to fountain pens, which means you can use a wide range of ink colors. It comes with an 0.7 mm medium point and is available in multiple colors — bordeaux, blue, white and clear — in addition to green.
The Classic Sport Ink Cartridge pen colors are solid, and feature a matching barrel and cap. It has the non-rolling octagonal screw-on cap common to other Kaweco pens. The longer cap means the pen is compact when carrying, but full-sized when in use. Like other Kawecos, the clip is sold separately. The pen feels like a hybrid, in the sense that it has a roller ball point, but the handwriting looks like it came from a fountain pen. It is easy to write with and has a good ink flow. The “medium” point seems more like a broad one, and it’s a bit wetter than the usual roller ball. Overall, this Kaweco sport style is a comfortable, pleasant pen to use, and this Classic is a classy alternative to the typical roller ball.
Finally, for the fountain pen lover who wants a carry-around pen, the Platinum Preppy is a good choice, and is about the same price as a disposable fountain pen. This full-size clear demonstrator pen has a colored cap, coordinating colored nib and bright spring green ink
In addition to the reviewed green pen, the Preppy also comes in a bright array of blue, yellow, purple, red and black in 0.3 or 0.5 mm nibs. The nib is inflexible, which is common in low-cost fountain pens. The pen sometimes needs an encouraging shake to get the ink flowing, but once moving this nib medium produces a full-bodied script. They use a proprietary cartridge that may not be available in a big-box office supply store. However, they are inexpensive so you can simply stock up on a rainbow of colors from JetPens. If you’ve been disappointed when markers and highlighter pens run dry, you’ll be happy to find that the Preppy also comes in marker or highlighter style that uses the same size cartridge!
After experimenting with all six pens, I can see different uses for each one. The Pilot B2P and Zebra eco would be excellent selections for taking notes in meetings. The Pilot V5 precise would be a good alternative when combining drawing and writing. The Uni-ball Jetstream, as a basic ballpoint, would be a good pen for signing credit card slips or other quick routine tasks. The Kaweco would be my choice for calendaring or writing notes — since it uses fountain pen style ink, this one won’t work well for carbon paper duplicate forms. As a fountain pen devotee, I like the flexibility of being able to use some of the many cartridges I have on hand. The Preppy is a choice for when I am on-the-go but want a fun fountain pen at hand.
Preference in fountain pens, like many things in life, is based on personal taste, use, and priority. Someone who wants simple maintenance may prioritize pen choice on its ability to accept generic international cartridges that can be purchased at typical office supply stores. Others may overcome that challenge by choosing pens that accept converters, and buy ink by the bottle.
This collection of pens shows that whatever your preference — ballpoint, roller, gel, or fountain pen, you can honor Mother Nature by choosing one that can be refilled and reused. You can even opt for pens made of recycled materials. These are probably not pens to last a lifetime, but even if you replace them occasionally, you have helped to reduce the lasting effects of plastic in the landfill. With the exception of the Kaweco logo on the cap, they are entirely plastic so you can easily pull out the cartridge and recycle the barrel if necessary. Go green and leave your legacy in your thoughtful writing and creative drawing, not in the quantity of non-biodegradable trash you contribute to future generations!