MUJI created a pen and refill that are all compatible with each other. The upside to this product is that it can be refilled, so single-use plastic is diverted from the waste-stream. I appreciate that they are trying to make it convenient and affordable for customers to be eco-conscious in their shopping. The downside is that the main material used in these pens is plastic so it cannot be considered sustainable by any means. MUJI cannot be considered transparent either as it omits important information about its sourcing of materials and manufacturing of products.
The one material listed in the product description section is polypropylene. Polypropylene has an environmental footprint lower than many types of plastic because it can be recycled, however, no plastic is good for the environment. Polypropylene is not biodegradable; it takes 20-30 years to degrade and releases toxins in the process. If the customer continues to refill their pen with ink, it is no longer single-use plastic. But ultimately, it will end up in a landfill. Polypropylene is also less toxic than many plastics because it doesn’t contain bisphenol A, a synthetic estrogen. What is worrisome is the product description includes a warning for cancer and reproductive harm and a link to California’s Proposition 65. According to this site, businesses are required to “provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm”. Without clarification, I take it this means the pen ink or plastic is harmful to human health. MUJI packages its products in paper bags instead of plastic and encourages customers to bring their own bags, one step in the right direction.
Since nothing is disclosed anything about the manufacturing process - where the pens are manufactured, what machinery is used, who assembles the pens, etc, MUJI falls short in this category. The lack of transparency is very telling. Typically, plastic needs to be molded into the shape of the pen, which requires energy to melt and high pressure to force the liquid plastic into the molds. This would likely depend on fossil fuels. The actual material in the pens - polypropylene - is actually made of fossil fuels, crude oil specifically. Obtaining it and refining it would require input of fossil fuels as well.
MUJI is a Japanese company founded in 1980 with more than 400 retail stores worldwide. My biggest concern with MUJI is its lack of transparency. MUJI scored a 26 out of the world’s 250 largest fashion brands on the Fashion Transparency Index in 2020. This means it does not disclose enough about its societal and environmental impacts. On this note, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute includes MUJI as one of the 82 brands “potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour transfer programs”. MUJI has since discounted these claims but failed to provide hard evidence. On the company’s website, there is an entire section on sustainability, but no clear measure of its global environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, habitat degradation, etc.). A company of its size must set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target which it has not yet done. In short, MUJI informs its consumers only on all of the good, not the bad, it is doing for the environment, a form of greenwashing.