As a huge fan of stationery, I’m always on the lookout for new pens or markers to add that extra pop of color. Over the years, I’ve grown to especially love Staedtler’s triplus fineliner markers for just that reason. With their bright colors and tiny 0.3 mm tip, these fineliners offer a perfect compromise between marker and pen to enhance any set of handwritten notes. These pens are great for stationery enthusiasts, yes— but are they great for the planet? The layout of most stationery and writing utensil companies is inherently unsustainable. Once the ink inside the pens is completely used, there is no practical way to refill them or recycle them. The vast majority of pens and markers will wind up in a landfill—and Staedtler’s products are no exception. However, the Staedtler company has made some effort towards sustainability by maximizing the lifetime of their pens and setting their own sustainability goals. They have even described their company philosophy as “efficient for ecology,” using environmentalism as a guideline for their products. Overall, Staedtler shows a great concern for sustainability within the development and manufacturing of their products. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement for Staedtler to minimize their environmental impact.
The Staedtler fineliner is comprised of five main components: plastic pen body, pen cap, ink reservoir, ink itself, and the tip. The pen body, and possibly the pen cap, are made of polypropylene (PP) plastic. PP is regarded as a somewhat more sustainable type of plastic because it is recyclable and has less of a carbon footprint when being manufactured. The recyclability of PP is essentially useless in the case of Staedtler’s fineliners, however, because the pens themselves cannot be traditionally recycled. Furthermore, it is not indicated whether the PP they use in the pen is sourced from recycled materials—but the lack of this information points towards the fact that it is not. While there is no available information on what the pen tip is made of, Staedtler does state that the fineliners have dry safe technology, which means they can be left uncapped without drying out the ink. This demonstrates an effort towards sustainability by increasing the lifespan of their products, so consumers do not need to throw out and replace them as often. There is little to no other information describing what the other components of the pen are made of. Because of Staedtler’s desired image of sustainability, however, I think it would be safe to assume that, if those components were sustainably made, it would be better documented. Personally, one way I think Staedtler could greatly reduce the amount of waste they produce is by starting an in-house recycling program, where customers can send in their old pens that can be re-filled and re-sold by Staedtler. This more circular lifecycle of the pens would greatly reduce Staedtler’s environmental impact and has the potential to even save them money. At a bare minimum, Staedtler should be more transparent about the materials they’re using in their products and where they are sourced.
Along with the fineliner pens themselves, this product is packaged in a plastic box, though it’s unclear what type of plastic it is. Staedtler claims that these boxes are made with sustainability in mind because they can be reused again and again. However, how likely is it that this will happen? Ultimately, when the pens dry out and are used up, the consumer will buy more, resulting in them getting another plastic box. The boxes are custom designed to encase the fineliners, so there is very little use for a consumer to own two of the boxes with only one set of pens. At the end of their lifecycle, I think most of these plastic boxes will wind up in a landfill. Staedtler could avoid this current inevitability by designing their packaging to be more versatile so that consumers are encouraged to repurpose them. Another option could be for Staedtler to adopt recycled and recyclable paper packaging for the fineliners, like they have for some of their other products.
There is very little information available about the manufacturing process of Staedtler fineliners, except that they are made in Germany. They claim that they use “ecological manufacturing processes,” but there is no information available on what this ambiguous claim means. It is concerning that Staedtler has released so little information on the manufacturing and production processes of these pens, and I believe they should be more transparent about them. Furthermore, Staedtler products are available in over 150 countries around the globe, while 80% of their products are manufactured in Germany. These exports likely have a very high carbon footprint for transportation, further contributing to Staedtler’s carbon footprint.
The Staedtler company, based in Germany, was originally founded in 1835 and has since become the largest European manufacturer of wooden and mechanical pencils, pens, erasers, and more. From exploring Staedtler’s website, I believe that they have good intentions when it comes to sustainability. Staedtler has modeled their philosophy around the phrase “efficient for ecology,” and have partnered with organizations such as The Association for Sustainability and Environmental Management in Germany to improve their sustainability. They have detailed information on the sustainability [practices of their wood usage for some of their products, such as their wooden pencils. They have not, however, elaborated on their sustainability practices for their plastic products, such as the fineliners. This indicated that they may just be cherry-picking which of their practices to highlight on their website to make them seem more sustainable overall.
They have also set sustainability goals to reach by 2025, including 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging, 70% of plastic packaging being recycled, and 50% average recycled content in packaging. In my opinion, these goals are not nearly aggressive enough in face of the current climate crisis. As mentioned earlier, while their plastic packaging, such as for the fineliners, may technically be reusable, the non-universal design will likely lead to the consumer throwing it out. Furthermore, it is difficult for Staedtler to gauge the exact percentage of how much their packaging is being recycled once it is out of their hands and in the consumers’. Finally, with current technologies making recycled plastics and sustainable paper packaging alternatives easier to incorporate than ever, the 50% recycled material in packaging goal is lackluster.
Overall, while Staedtler seems to have good intentions when it comes to sustainability and environmental protection, many of their claims about their own sustainability are unfounded without evidence available. As a large manufacturer of stationery products, they have a platform to fundamentally change the standard for the currently unsustainable industry by making the switch to reusable, re-fillable, recyclable products and packaging. However, they continue to play into the unsustainable standard while making claims that they’re keeping sustainability in line. In my opinion, Staedtler needs to start being transparent and honest with customers by first being honest with themselves. Are they really living up to their standard of “efficient for ecology”? Are they really putting in their best effort? Currently, I do not think they are. However, I have hope that, with a little more applied pressure and inspiration, Staedtler will recognize the areas they are slacking in and correct them.
Product link: https://www.staedtler.com/au/en/products/products-for-colouring/fineliners/triplus-fineliner-334-triangular-fineliner-334-sb10/