Dead pen project spreads like ink through Chilliwack

Strathcona elementary students take charge in pen recycling project

Mme. Daneluz's Grade 6 class hold up a container of pens

Mme. Daneluz's Grade 6 class hold up a container of pens

Everyone knows that soup cans, drink boxes and newspapers can be recycled.

But a Grade 6 class at Strathcona elementary has learned there’s another every day item that can be diverted from the landfill — something that’s in every school, every home, every office.

Pens.

Mme. Kristina Daneluz was researching the possibility of recycling sandwich bags when she happened upon a list that included pens. She learned that all pens, including felt pens, highlighters, mechanical pencils and all pen caps, can be recycled. Now, Daneluz and her class of eco-minded students are hoping word spreads like a leaking ballpoint.

“It’s making a big difference here,” said student Jayde Blight-Swanson. “I think people are caring more about making sure they recycle.”

The class estimates they each use anywhere from three to 20 pens in a given school year. So, here’s some quick math.

If each student uses an average 10 pens per year, for 13 school years, they’re burning through 130 pens a student. That doesn’t include the dead pens at home, or college.

Times those pens by the 14,000 students in the Chilliwack school district, and it’s easy to surmise that each graduating class has discarded about 1.82 million pens in pursuit of an education.

But with how quickly the “dead pen” recycling awareness project has taken off, it’s likely the number of discarded writing utensils is going to go down substantially from this day forward. The class began collecting the pens back in November.

Their goal was to collect 250 pens by the end of the year. Little did they know how quickly the concept would catch on. The students told their parents, and their parents took the idea to their workplaces.

Blight-Swanson stood up in front of the entire school at an assembly and explained the program. Very shortly after that, teachers began knocking at the classroom door, pens in hand and eager to donate to the cause. But they didn’t stop at Strathcona. They drew up posters for schools around the district, providing each school with a recycling box.

They even took the message to elected leaders, with Daneluz and student Daniela Chow addressing the school board back in December. Trustees showed immediate support, promising to commit to recycling their pens. Then, board chair Silvia Dyck challenged the City of Chilliwack to do the same. And in turn, the City challenged the Fraser Valley Regional District.

“In the spirit of collaboration and waste reduction, the City of Chilliwck would be pleased to join Daniela and her classmates in the Dead Pen Recycling Challenge,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz wrote in reply to Dyck. Similarly, the FVRD now keeps recycling containers for pens near their photocopiers.

“This is all just because of who these children are, and who they are talking to,” Daneluz said.

And now that the kids know they can recycle pens and felts, they can’t imagine ever tossing one carelessly into the garbage can. And they all plan to carry on promoting the message, and encouraging activism as they leave elementary school and head into middle school next year.

“I’ll probably tell my teacher about this,” Julia Hirch said, whose family is already in the habit of recycling office supplies. “My parents already recycle things like ink cartridges and batteries.”

Their dead pens will end up at Staples, who recycles them through Terracycle.

While the project has had a ripple effect throughout the community, it’s also part of a classroom project. They are keeping track of the project, creating a storyboard for a video, and will present their project as an entry in the 2015 BC Green Team Games.

They hope to gather as many pens as possible by the end of January, so they can finish their presentation in time for the contest deadline on March 1. But they won’t stop recycling pens in the classroom, this year and for years to come.

jpeters@theprogress.com