There are many pens on the market today that claim to be biodegradable or ecologically sound – but are they really? DBA in New York wanted to produce a responsible alternative to the vast numbers of wasteful and toxic pens we use and dispose of unethically every day, and claims to have designed not only a pen that looks good and writes well, but is also the world's only 98% biodegradable pen.

Pens today are usually made from a mixture of materials; plastics like nylon, polyester and polypropylene, steel and other chemicals, which makes them unsuitable for recycling and remain in tact for thousands of years. The ink is mostly oil-based and contain biocides that are harmful to both humans and the environment and leak toxins into the soil and water from landfill. The packaging is made from non-recyclable PVC containing chlorine and heavy metals so it can't be recycled either. Finally they can be created in factories with low-efficiency that contribute to environmental pollution and are often located in countries with poor standards of regulation. Even pens which claim to be environmentally friendly are often actually non-biodegradable components housed in a biodegradable shell with an unlabeled ink.

In comparison, the DBA pen is comprised of a bio-plastic derived from non-GM potatoes while the ink reservoir is made from a biodegradable fiber. The packaging is made from 100% recycled material; uses Ancient Forest Friendly and FSC certified paper sourced and printed with vegetable inks in the USA. It is processed chlorine-free, is 100% recyclable and uses the most efficient shape to pack in quantity, reducing carbon emissions from transportation. The ink itself uses simple “pronounceable” ingredients; water, non-toxic pigments, glycerin (food-grade sugar alcohol) and sodium benzoate (food-grade preservative) which are all safe for both humans and the environment. It has been designed to compost in a facility within 180 days.

Not only is the product itself as environmentally friendly as possible, but the manufacturer is too. Harbec is billed as one of the most ecologically sustainable factories in the USA and is fast on its way to becoming carbon neutral despite already exceeding the stringent ISO 14001 environmental management standard. The factory itself is powered by an on-site wind turbine; the machines are the most energy efficient available; they use a combined heat and power micro-turbine generation plant, rainwater geothermal-assisted cooling systems, and the transportation fleet uses hybrid, alternative fuel and zero-emission vehicles.

The only part of the process in fact that is not ecologically perfect is the 2% non-biodegradable component given over to the nib which must be removed and disposed separately as garbage. This is because DBA wanted primarily to offer an excellent writing experience and so used the best quality product for the nib. They are also careful to explain that the pen cannot be degraded in landfill owing to lack of oxygen required for the process and is best composted in a commercial facility rather than at home. They recommend the site Find A Composter but offer to compost any pens returned to them if another alternative cannot be found, with a coupon towards further purchases.

DBA stands for “Doing Business As” which they feel reflects their ethos of “doing business as” a means to greater ethics tackling larger concerns, and “doing business as” designers, ecologists, and socially responsible individuals. They were founded in New York in 2008 and hope to bring unique eco-friendly products to the marketplace that meet user needs whilst being simple and honest. The DBA pen is available in a three-pack for US$8.

DBA 98 Biodegradable Pen from DBA on Vimeo.