First, there was quill and ink. Then the fountain pen, followed by the ballpoint pen. Now, we can add something new to the history books: the compostable pen.
Yep, a new marker by design agency Carlo Ratti Associati, called the “Scribit” pen, is completely compostable. The ink? Edible. And unlike the 1.6 billion disposable plastic pens Americans send to landfills every year, this first-of-its-kind marker won’t leach toxins into the environment when it’s thrown out.
As it turns out, plastic pens are everywhere, but they’re really difficult to recycle. Most people just throw them away once the ink runs out, since they can’t be recycled curbside. And while there are options to recycle disposable Bic pens, it requires dedicated effort on the part of the consumer, who can either purchase a special recycling box or mail the pens to a recycling facility, both through a partnership between Bic and recycling firm Terracycle. (For its part, Pilot has made a pen made 86% out of recycled water bottles.)
The Scribit compostable marker, developed for tech company Scribit (which developed a drawing robot in 2019), is completely eco-friendly. The refillable barrel is made in a few different colors based on the material: either responsibly farmed wood; recycled, anodized aluminum; or biodegradable PHB plastic (the least appealing of the three, as it could still leave microplastics behind). The team tested dozens of different materials to solve for functional necessities like an oxygen barrier, which prevents ink from drying out in the barrel, before landing on these final components, according to Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and a professor at MIT.
The nib and ink cartridges are made of natural fibers. The ink, which will be available in eight colors, is water-based and made of nontoxic organic pigment—certified edible, even. (Not that you should go around eating it; it just means you won’t get sick.)
The pen is currently under development and doesn’t yet have a wide release date, as they’re still exploring ways to scale the product, according to Ratti. And while a price hasn’t been finalized, Ratti says they want to sell the refillable cartridge at the same price point of other pens. For all the talk about a circular economy in the design space, one of the industry’s most basic tools—the humble pen—has long been overlooked. This redesign is one step toward fixing that.