Stocking the Drawers With Sustainable Supplies

About every few months, my cache of writing and class supplies—pens, notepads, folders, printer paper—begins to run low, which means it’s time to visit the nearby big-box office supply store.

In months and years past, as I’ve run through thousands of pages of notebook paper and innumerable pens, I’ve developed a few personal favorites—the Pilot G2 gel pen, Office Max brand legal pads, the 6”x9” Steno Pads for reporting. But as I approached the office supplies aisle in the nearby Office Max earlier this morning, I noticed an entire section of “green,” recycled, curiously eccentric pens and notebooks and even staplers.

So, in the spirit of month of green living, I did a little investigating for my college-aged readers and myself on the new wave of eco-friendly office miscellany.

The first display, from the brand Terracycle, offered pens with recycled paper casings, biodegradable pens, notebooks made of recycled paper and Chips Ahoy! Wrappers and a slew of other binders and paper dividers made out of 100 percent recycled materials.

A quick look at Terracycle’s Web site says that the company was started in 2001 by two Princeton University students, Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer, whose flagship product is a natural, organic liquid plant food made from “worm poop” and packaged in reused soda bottles. Today, the company’s product offerings range from eco-friendly firestarting logs packaged in reused two-liter bottles to natural window cleaners to pencil cases made of used Capri Sun juice boxes.

For a green-minded shopper, what’s not to like? Inevitably, the price. Whereas a box of 12 plastic Bic ballpoint pens costs as little as $2.50, a four-pack of Terracycle paper pens runs upwards of $7.99—more than three times the price. The company’s three-ring binders and notepads also cost quite a bit more than less environmentally friendly brands.

The dilemma that never ends—“green” versus green ($), environmental cost versus cash-register cost.

Fortunately, a few aisles over is the display for a few other—and cheaper—eco-friendly office supply lines. The store brand “green” products aren’t as appealing from a environmental standpoint—Terracycle’s pens are 100 percent recyclable; Office Max’s are only 72 percent—but I could be splitting hairs here, getting a bit too picky with my green goals. (Granted, after a month of trying to cut my carbon footprint, you start to pay close to attention to “eco-friendly” labels and claims.)

A two-pack of Zebra brand recyclable pens, I learned, costs $2.99, so even if I bought two packs I’d still end up with more money in my pocket than the Terracycle paper pens. Then again, that’s two times the packaging—and Terracycle’s products all come in recycled packaging as well. A dilemma, indeed.

While I mulled whether to fork out the extra cash in the name of being as green as possible, I checked out Office Max’s printer paper selection, figuring there would be plenty of eco-friendly choices here.

And indeed I was right, as the store’s paper selection (though I’m trying to print as little as possible nowadays) featured a wide array of options, each one color coded to indicate how much of the paper was made of recycled materials—and how much more expensive it was. 100 percent recycled “Multi-purpose Paper” runs $8.49 for 500 sheets—not all that more expensive from other less recycled options.

In the end, however, I decided against buying any paper at all—printer paper, notepads, legal pads. I can always use the unused backsides of the various legal pads strewn throughout my room, and if I’m trying to read more online and not print as much then how could I justify buying a 500-pack of fresh paper, recycled or not?

For college students out there—and everyone else who uses office supplies for that matter—try shopping with the environment in mind next time you hit up the campus bookstore or your own local big box. You don’t have to buy a Chips Ahoy! book; a few biodegradable pens wouldn’t hurt, though.

Updates, come and get your updates! I’m already writing the post-mortem for my compost pile (in my head). When I check the heat of the pile, I see there is none; nearly every morning one of the compost box’s sides has fallen, despite my repeated stabilization efforts (I blame squirrel saboteurs); and the pile on the whole seems lifeless.

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, however. Having talked with a couple of compost experts I know, they surmised that I tried to start the pile too early in the year—I’d have had more success starting in early or mid April, they said. C’est la vie. I’ll try to keep the pile alive until the weather warms, and maybe the sun will breath some life into it. Fingers crossed.