You know, I think I have bought maybe three pens in my entire life.
It’s not that I don’t use them, nor am I a thief or a mooch, it’s just that they are always there. To many Americans they are a sort of “non-thing”, they just exist and are readily available, and if you don’t have one you just need to ask around for a minute or so. Unless you work in a corporate setting, pens are not something you ever need to think about. They are background static, taken for granted.
Not many people even finish the ink in them before they disappear into the cracks, under the sofa or in the gutter. Because they don’t matter, right? Thing is, pens aren’t something that are recycled in the US. 14,000,000 disposable pens are manufactured daily by just a single source – enough to wrap around the world three times. 106 billion are made annually, creating 662,500 tons of landfill waste.
That’s quite a bit isn’t it? And we never even think about it. It costs around forty cents a pen to get a bunch personalized with your company’s logo, and when a logo changes most often the old ones just get tossed, brand new. Americans are accused of being wasteful, and while not true in all cases this is certainly one place they prove to be excessive. Interestingly, you can go on eBay and buy a lot of 50 pens, branded with, say, a pharmaceutical product for less than thirteen dollars, or around twenty-five cents a pen.
And yet halfway across the world a pen could mean everything, a chance at a future and an education. Here we are tossing our pens and forgetting them in our bags when those fifty-cent bits of plastic and ink are all that separate a poor child from his or her full potential. Just because we happen to have been born into a position in this world that allowed us that opportunity and excess.
And at six cents, pencils are even cheaper.
I never buy pens because I just pick up what others have dropped, left behind, or no longer need. I’ve never run out. In fact, I have a box in my room for them, full of all sorts of writing utensils. Just in case I run out, lose the one I was using. Just in case. More than I will probably ever go through.
More than I need.
So you know what?
Instead I will be shipping them to Afghanistan, where they actually need them, where “need” means something different than most of us here will probably ever understand.