It's safe to say my partner Julian is a fountain pen pro. For him, they're a favored daily tool, at least one always tucked into his pocket (no ink explosions yet!).
Since they're refillable, fountain pens are also a zero waste alternative to the plastic pens that are designed to be disposed of once empty. But they can also be a bit daunting at first (I still sometimes need help with mine!). Julian kindly offered to share a mini tutorial with us; here's what he has to say. (Note: this post contains a few affiliate links).
With widespread access to smartphones and an overwhelming list of to-do list and note taking apps, it's safe to assume that reliance on pen and paper has decreased. Like many people, though, I still and enjoy writing the old-fashioned way. I'm no Luddite (I use Evernote extensively to supplement pen and paper), but there's something more convenient about grabbing my favorite notepad and scrawling a grocery list before I can unlock my phone and find the appropriate app. Physically crossing things off of my daily to-do list is way more satisfying than tapping a checkbox.
Even before I first became aware of zero waste, I cringed every time I dropped an empty Pilot G2 in the trash. Sometimes, I even wishfully put them in the recycling bin, hoping that magically the plastic would be reused. Eventually, I began purchasing refill cartridges and kept the same pen body.
In many cases, the available or affordable pens are not refillable (e.g., Bic). For some pens, you can recycle the bodies or ship the empty product to a program like Terracycle. This is a reasonably good solution, but recycling requires energy. If possible, it's preferable to avoid introducing new pens into the waste cycle.
My solution is simple: the fountain pen. To some, it may appear archaic. Fountain pens certainly did to me when I first found dried up Parkers in my parents' pen cups. They didn't write smoothly and made a mess of the paper and my hands. What I didn't know then is that the ink had dried in the pens due to years of sitting idle and with some easy reconditioning, they would work well.
As I see it, a fountain pen offers the following advantages for those with an eye toward zero waste:
-Fountain pens are designed to be refilled with ink, which may be purchased "in bulk" in glass containers. This obviates the need for additional plastic refills.
-There are many economical pen options that are made mostly of metal.
-The pens will last for far longer than a typical ballpoint pen if treated correctly.
There are, however, some obstacles to getting started with fountain pens. Fountain pens offer different writing styles based on the width and material of the nib, the ink you choose, the paper you write on, and even the way you hold the pen. You may have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you.
I recommend an affordable and durable metal pen to get started:
-LAMY AL-Star: Time and time again this pen comes up as highly recommended. The nib writes extremely well, the metal pen is well-made and has a minimum amount of plastic, and the body is comfortable to hold. The clip on the cap makes it easy to bring with you. Plus, you can buy replacement nibs, ensuring this pen will last decades.
-Diplomat Traveller (pictured here): This is a nicely weighted metal pen with a quality nib. It is slimmer than the AL-Star and is more at home in a shirt pocket (if that's of interest to you!).
-Pilot Metropolitan: This metal pen comes in a variety of patterns and colors and is the most affordable of the bunch. The ink cartridge system is proprietary, but if you order a converter and refill it with ink from a bottle, this isn't a limitation.
Next, select a good quick-drying ink to make quick notes more accessible. Watery inks will smear if you smudge them (for example, when noting the PLU of an item in the bulk aisle on a piece of plastic-y tape).
-Noodler’s Q-E'ternity: Quick-drying and smear-resistant ink that works well for paper on which fountain pen inks typically bleed.
-Pelikan 4001: This ink comes in several vibrant colors and dries even faster than the above.
A bottle of either of these should last you years - or, you can plan split several bottles with a friend (or even one bottle among several friends!) until you find one you like.
When you purchase a pen and bottle of ink, be sure to purchase a converter, the piece shown above with the red cap. These piston devices replace the small disposable plastic cartridges that typically feed ink to a fountain pen. When your pen is empty, you remove the body, twist the piston such that it is closest to the nib, submerge the nib in the ink bottle, and draw the piston up to fill the converter with ink. (Here's a more in-depth look at how to use it). After a quick wipe down of the nib on a piece of scrap paper, you’re ready to write!
Fountain pens provide an easy and satisfying avenue for reducing waste at your office and at home. While they may seem a bit tricky to get started with, with a bit of practice, you can replace disposables with a reusable option.
If you have any questions - about getting started with fountain pens or even if you're a long-time user - Julian loves talking about all things FP. He's planning pop into the comment section below with answers, so ask away! Thank you, Julian!