Your regular pen might be secretly refillable

refillable pens

Sometimes cheap everyday pens can be converted into refillable pens. Here’s how.


I need the touch of pen to paper. I’m always jotting down notes and leaving to-do lists everywhere. Pencil? No thanks. I resent the the carbon smudges, the ever-in-flux nib diameter and the need for a sharpener. Also, did you know that erasers are often made of vinyl? The pen is my tool of choice, and a necessary evil at work and in my day-to-day.

zero waste pen
Hey look, my pen matches my reusable coffee cup!

I say evil, since many pens are made cheaply of plastic and designed to be tossed once the ink’s run dry. The exception are those marketed as refillable (and perhaps fountain pens). I use a refillable model from Parker.

To reduce waste to landfill at my workplace, we collect spent pens for recycling into a Terracycle box bought from Officeworks here in Australia. It’s an additional cost to the business that luckily doesn’t have to be done often.

Refillable pens are everywhere, if you know where to look.

I recently discovered this clever little hack care of my coworker, a man who’s used one leather-bound Faber Castell refillable pen for the past twenty years. One day he sorted through our pen recycling box, and from the hundred or so dead pens in the box, he brought three to my desk and showed me a neat trick.

He unscrewed each one and placed the ink cartridges side by side. Even though the pens all looked different on the outside, the ink cartridges were all the same design. Furthermore, they were exactly the same as those in my refillable Parker pen. They were all secretly refillable!

Radical resource efficiency and less plastic. 

I marked the three rescued pens as refillable and now we only need buy the refill cartridges instead of recycling the whole pen. Although Parker refill cartridges aren’t the cheapest at about $9 each, they do write beautifully, last a while – for a writing distance of 3500m to be precise. They’re made mostly of metal, which means they’ll be more valuable when recycled at their end of life. After daily use for nearly a year, my pen has only recently run out of ink. This is not an ad for Parker and I’m certain there exist other high quality brands made of metal.

Refilling our pens reduces material use, plastic production, and our pen recycling cost, without requiring much of a change in behaviour – we will still buy office supplies after all. In Paul Hawken’s language, it’s radical resource efficiency.

The next time you run out of ink, check inside to see whether it can be your new refillable pen. And if this idea sounds like a bridge too far, another innovative solution is the recycled and recyclable Enviroliner pen from Close the Loop. The pen is made with the plastic and leftover ink from printer cartridges collected by Planet Ark.

Now you tell me – what’s your favourite way to minimize waste in the office?

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