Zero Waste pens: or my unrequited love for Parker


As much as we are living in a digital world, it is impossible not to use some sort of writing implement. Especially if you are an artist or a student (guilty on both counts). Last weekend, I decided I need a break from the rural European village I live in and went into a nearby city to run a long overdue errand. I've been eyeing the Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen for half a year now, since I passed up an opportunity to buy one at Wonder Pens Pen Swap in Toronto during the summer. Clearly... I have regrets about that. So off to the big city I went, with my eyes on a wonderful little Pen Shop that I stumbled on during my last visit.

I'm going to pause in my story to answer a few questions here:
If I'm going to go Zero Waste do I even need to use pens?
Ideally, no. In an increasingly digital age we can manage many things on our phones or computers. However it is impossible to be exclusively digital so we all need to use pens at some point. Even Zero Waste guru Bea Johnson uses a pen.. to sign her books of course! The ideal solution to the problem of a cheap BIC pen that you throw away after it runs out is the fountain pen. Fountain pens can be refilled with ink from a glass bottle. Most of them will last a lifetime because they are made of steel and other hardy materials. Not only do you reduce your trash by having nothing to throw away but the amount of $ saved is significant as well. Substituting a pencil instead of a pen is also a great idea, for example, for your shopping list, you can write it in pencil and then erase the list after shopping and reuse the paper*. Endlessly. Brilliant!


After finding my way to the Pen Shop I spent about half an hour conversing with the owner over the varieties of pens (cue: nerdy fountain pen talk that I will omit). He graciously allowed me to test 5 or 6 different pens, while answering my many questions. I'm incredibly picky about the thickness of the ink flow on my paper and nothing I've written with has been thin enough for me. The only exception is the Sakura Micron 01 Fineliner. It's a wonderful pen really, but after a few months it runs out of ink or the tip inevitably gets pushed in. You can hack the pen and add more ink (watch this video) but I haven't found a way to prevent the tip from disappearing into the body of the pen over time. Also, the Microns are INCREDIBLY expensive here in the Netherlands being sold for 3.50 Euros ($5.40 CAN). I'm sure I could go through 6 or 7 pens in a year which would cost me $37.80! Phew. Expensive. I write a lot: journaling** as well as taking notes for school so I'm quite hard on my pens and use them multiple times a day.

Which brings me back to that glorious afternoon at the Pen Shop. The gentleman proprietor after seeing my distaste with all the thick writing pens (Lamy, too thick. Pilot, too thick!) pulled out some vintage Parker pens from his stock and added an old fine nib. It wrote like a charm. Smooth and thin like a tendril of silk across the page. (omits several lines of swoony poetry to Parker) Mission accomplished!

A key thing to remember when buying a fountain pen is to make sure it has a converter. A converter allows the pen to be refilled by drawing up ink into the pen so it can write for a period of time without running out. Be aware that many fountain pens are also run on cartridges. This involves buying new cartridges when the cartridges run out of ink.. aka spending more money and producing more waste, therefore negating the environmental reasons why you wanted to purchase a fountain pen in the first place! Be sure to ask if the fountain pen can take a converter as most models are able to do both.

Here you can see the converter and ink well of my fountain pen.

Many people balk at the initial prices of fountain pens, appalled at spending 20$ for a single pen. Remember, you are not buying a one time use pen, instead you are buying a pen that you can use for the rest of your life! I believe in moving beyond a single-use mindset, the type of thinking that says I'll just use it once and then throw it away. I know for me I love owning a few fountain pens, not only because of the aesthetic value (hello, classy to the max, Instagrams like a boss etc.) but because it is a valued item. Out of my 4 fountain pens, two were gifts from dear friends and although the ink flow is not perfect, they are still excellent writing utensils. I'm also much less likely to lose them, unlike your cheap plastic pen, because I highly value my pens. Just as you wouldn't easily loose your passport because it is of high value to you.. we need to remember to treat our possessions with care and they can last us a lifetime. Not only did I end up buying a secondhand item giving it a new life, but I had a wonderful experience discussion a topic I'm passionate about with a local shopkeeper. I would have missed out on all these things if I had zipped out to a dollar store to get a plastic coated pack of cheap pens.

insert heart eye emoji


**A Note on using paper and pens: if you read the Zero Waste Bible AKA Bea Johnson's book Zero Waste Home she is strongly against analogue items like journals, day planners, letters, etc. She advocates a complete switch from analogue to digital unless absolutely necessary. While I agree that we need to be aware of our paper consumption, I also cannot completely leave behind an analogue lifestyle. Nothing will ever replace a pen and paper. I try to reduce the amount of notebooks and sketchbooks I own, but I still love to create handmade cards and send snail mail. I love creating art and handlettering. It is important to find what you love to do and not throw everything out the window because certain people don't value it. Definitely be aware of the environmental impact, try to buy more papers made of recycle paper etc., but don't throw your identity out the window when you go Zero Waste because then it becomes a trend and not something that will last. Find what works for you, we are all unique and have our own style and passions. There's definitely alot we can do as artists to reduce our waste without sacrificing our craft, I'd love to hear from you if you have any tips or suggestions! :)

*one of the many tips gleaned from Bea Johnsons book Zero Waste Home

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