Pen Recycling Makes its Mark on Campus

Monday, January 29, 2018

uOttawa Recycling Bin with pen recycling receptacle

Did you know that you can recycle pens at the University of Ottawa? A few years ago, the Office of Campus Sustainability introduced Pen Recycling on campus as an expansion to the recycling program. There is only one problem... how can you get people to recycle something they don't know that they can recycle?

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole, let's start with how pens can get recycled.
It's actually really simple, we use Terra Cycle - a company that specializing in hard to recycle things. We use them on campus a lot actually. Coffee pods, cigarette butts, plastic gloves... even shoes from time to time.

Terra Cycle has a team of people who disassemble things and recycle the components separately. No magic involved, just some elbow grease. The materials (like plastics) get transformed into new items like park benches. One of the programs they operate is pen recycling, which is currently free and is being covered by Staples Canada.

assortment of pens at the uOttawa pen recycling program

So the first part is covered, we can recycle pens. But the next part is the really hard part... convince people to recycle them. You see really there are two obstacles. Obstacle number one, let everyone know the program exists and that they have access to it. Obstacle number two, have a bin right beside someone when their pen dies. Easy, right?

Well, getting the word out about recycling pens is no easy task. It is kind of a boring subject and increasingly, people aren't using pens anymore. And being around someone when their pen dies is as likely as remembering the password to your first ever email account.


So this is our solution, plaster pen recycling receptacles all over the recycling bins in the Library and cross our fingers. Yeah I know, it doesn't sound like a very solid plan but hear me out. We chose the library because there are a lot people people using a lot of pens. The hope is that after seeing the receptacles a few times, it will slowly sink in that the program exists.

Slowly but surely the program is growing. And in the coming months we will look for more opportunities to get the word out about not just pen recycling, but all forms of recycling. You see, the University of Ottawa is determined to become a zero waste campus and although pens may seem like a small thing, they are an opportunity.

Pens sorted by colour at the uOttawa Pen Recycling Program

They are not easy to recycle, they are not the largest form of waste, they are not the wave of the future... but it is because they are none of those things that they are in fact the perfect thing to recycle. Because when you realize that something as innocuous as a pen can be recycled with as little effort as attaching a small container to the side of a recycling centre, then you will realize that everything can be recycled and that it isn't that hard. And that is the reason why we recycle pens.

~jON - campus sustainability manager

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