Should Doncaster children switch their cheap disposable pens for expensive fountain pens to help the environment?

Columnist Kirsty- Jo Muddiman explores the idea of switching biro’s for fountain pens and the ecologicol cost of throw away stationary.

Monday, 19th August 2019, 10:34 am
Updated Monday, 19th August 2019, 10:34 am
Fountain Pen.

New year, new start.

New uniform, shoes, bags and PE kit.

That’s the essentials covered but then there’s the stationery: Paper, folders, diaries, pens, pencils, and rulers to name but a few.

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Fountain Pen

I feel older than my years when I hear myself say things like, “when I was at school….” but it is true that things have changed in the 22 years since I left school.

In a twist of fate, having lived away from Doncaster since leaving school, my youngest is now due to start at the same secondary school I went to.

I have found myself thinking back to how things were, more than I probably would have if we hadn’t moved back.

My initial thought was about how my daughter has dodged the “character building” brown uniform (I still have some aversion to wearing brown) but I soon got to thinking about her stationery shopping list as the eco answer often lies in history.

There are more environmentally friendly alternatives to lots of stationery; recycled unbleached paper, cloth pencil cases, pencil highlighters, and metal pencil sharpeners but the elephant in the room when it comes to educational stationery for me is the pen.

I always used a fountain pen at school but kids going to secondary school today have probably never even touched one.

The standard disposable ballpoint pen isn’t quite as single-use as a plastic drinking straw but when they’re done and we throw them away, the plastic tubes will still linger in our environment, breaking down into smaller and smaller particles and eventually entering our food chain.

Scientists have recently found plastic particles in Arctic snow so it’s safe to assume that microplastics are pretty much everywhere.

Researchers at Reading University say the average disposable ballpoint pen will write just 169 average length letters.

That’s not a lot when I think back to how many exercise books I filled over the years at school.

There are almost 1000 pupils at the school my daughter will be starting in September.

If each pupil buys five new ballpoint pens in each year of study, that’s ten thousand plastic tubes going to landfill each year (each pen has two plastic tubes).

That’s a lot of plastic waste from just one school.

I’d like to say that there’s a good alternative, but few of us have the budget for a metal ballpoint and the refills still need to go somewhere once they’re used.

Another option is almost inconsiderable for a parent shelling out on white shirts and a new school bag.

Who would advocate packing off their eleven-year-old with a fountain pen and a glass bottle of ink?

I’d be fine with the fountain pen with a refillable ink reserve, I use one myself, but my daughter would soon have the inside of her school bag, hands and face covered in ink if she were to start carrying around bottles of ink.

She’s also never been taught to use a fountain pen at school, something I learned alongside “joined-up writing” at primary school.

At a time when many are challenging the disposable culture we have, could it be time to effect change from the primary school level?

In teaching kids how to use fountain pens, and by providing ink refill stations in the classroom, we could reduce the amount of plastic being disposed of from our education system.

It’s a step back in time, but perhaps we will see inkwells in school desks again before long, as pressure to reduce disposable plastic increases.

Although recycling isn’t as eco-friendly as reducing the consumables in the first place, wouldn’t it be great to see schools using recycling points for stationery items such as disposable ballpoint pens?

It would, but with stretched budgets and one small collection box costing £121.25 it’s unlikely to happen… perhaps a good old-fashioned HB pencil would suffice for day-to-day work and notes which aren’t being officially examined?

Again, there’s no clear answer for the average family or school.Teachers have little spare time to think about what pens their pupils are using and budgets are tight at school and at home.

However, with environmental grants available, perhaps someone in the Doncaster area can take the first step backward to ink-well desks… or at least a step in the direction of reducing their plastic waste.