Won’t it be nice if we can use eco-friendly marker pen daily? It’s not much yet, but what I’m going to talk about here is a good start in that direction. I mean, I realize that we have edible ink already. The ink itself is more eco-friendly, but not the container so far.
Amidst the many talks of circular economy, we’ve overlooked something simple and basic: pen.
Thanks to Italian studio Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) has designed this pen-redesign concept. It’s a compostable marker pen comprising natural fibres and a water-based, edible ink that would break down within six months.
Called the Scribit Pen, the barrel of this marker is made from a choice of either wood, bioplastic or anodised aluminium. All those materials are reusable.
What does it mean by natural fibers for the nib and cartridge? Examples include sawdust, hemp fibers, lignin, and polyhydroxybutryate (PHB). PHB is a polymer, but we use it to produce biodegradable plastic.
Inside the replaceable cartridge is a non-toxic, water-based ink that uses edible ingredients. It’ll be available in eight colors. Pretty good for a set of eco-friendly markers.
We can compost both the ink and outer part of the pen. I don’t know if we actually compost ink, but it shows how organic the ink is. Oh, and you can also refill the cartridge as well.
The bioplastic pen outer will be fully compostable, made from the same materials as the cartridge. Wood and aluminium barrels aren’t compostable but they can last a long time, which can also be good.
“Upon learning that over 35 billion markers are sent to the landfills every year, we began to work on a solution in line with the concept of circular economy.
“As we arrived at the innovative concept to create a cartridge that can be separated from the barrel, we tested a large amount of organic fibres in order to produce the biodegradable cartridge with the optimal performance,” said the CRA design team.
You may be skeptical about the biodegradable PHB plastic. Because even though we can compost it, it could still leave microplastics behind. But at least it’s a better option than real, conventional plastic we see today.
And, PHB is just one of three options.
Still a concept and prototype
CRA initially designed this pen for Scribit’s drawing robot. It’s currently still a concept and is still in development stage. The design studio claimed that their bioplastic design is a “world first”.
During the development, the team tested dozens of different materials to solve for functional necessities like an oxygen barrier. It works to prevent ink from drying out in the barrel.
They’re working towards a final product that would be 100%. They aim that at least 90% of the pen decompose within six months in general composting environment.
Founder Carlo Ratti said, “We are proud of Scribit’s success, and how it has empowered thousands of people around the world to change the way they draw.
“However, we were troubled by the amount of plastic produced by the markers that the robot uses. By developing the new Scribit pen, we can turn one of humankind’s primordial acts – drawing – into a fully sustainable one.”
Since it’s still under development, the pens don’t have a wide release date yet. According to Ratti, they’re still exploring ways to scale the product and trying to finalize a price.
Speaking about price, Ratti said that his design studio wants to sell the refillable cartridge at the same price point of other pens. That way, we may get affordable, eco-friendly pens.
This isn’t the first time for CRA in their efforts towards designing products for a circular economy. Last year, in Milan’s design week, the studio grew a series of arched architectural structures from mushroom mycelium. They were all later returned to the soil.
Similar initiative in the form of gel pens
While studying at the University of Sydney, William Tjo always considered himself an eco-conscious student. But he could truly turn his passion into practice when he co-found Paper Pens Co., a startup that produces eco-friendly gel pens.
The idea for the company came in 2018. That time, Tjo was still completing his double degree in Law and Commerce.
“I came up with the idea of the pen when I received one as a gift in 2015. It was a pen covered with paper, although it was quite flimsy and not well designed.
“After a lot of research into almost 50 manufacturers, I started contacting them to ask whether they could create pens made of paper. To the ones that replied, I submitted a rough design derived from the pen gift, and after photo-shopping, refined the design to what it is today,” said Tjo.
Since launching in late 2019, Paper Pens Co. has expanded its distribution to over 32 countries. It has also signed deals with large organisations and companies including the CSIRO and Shopify Inc.
Currently, its design uses up to 70% less plastic than traditional pens, saving about 4.7g of plastic.
Getting help from different backgrounds
Tjo has returned to the University of Sydney Business School. He shared his insights with the next generation of entrepreneurs and seek their help. They wanted to expand their business beyond the 32 countries where their current customers and corporate clients come from.
Working with Dr. Maria Rumyantseva from the Business School, they both wanted to deliver a unique learning experience for students in the Master of Commerce.
Almost 200 postgraduate students took part in the project with Paper Pens Co. They brought a combination of diverse professional backgrounds and industry experiences to the table to form multidisciplinary teams.
“The online learning set-up provided by the Business School offered a range of interactive tools and spaces that became instrumental in connecting teams spread across several continents and time zones.
“Lecturing to a cohort of students knowing that some have just started their day while others are about to finish theirs made me realise once again how diverse yet wonderfully complementary our students and their backgrounds are,” said Dr. Rumyantseva.
The advantage of diverse international backgrounds
The team further benefited from the diverse international backgrounds of participants. They’ve got first-hand knowledge of markets that were put into investigation as part of the collaboration.
Students were able to choose the geographical focus of their projects. That included Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, US and China.
With weekly coaching and feedback sessions, students developed analytically rigorous and feasible international expansion strategies for Paper Pens Co. They needed extensive research to develop an intricate understanding of local markets, but the teaching team could help them.
“What I liked most about the course was how tailored the advice we received was. It was clear that the teams did their research on what would bring Paper Pens Co. the most value and added their own perspective into it,” said Tjo.