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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Zero Waste Stationery

Eliminating, substituting, reducing and/or recycling the waste from our stationery drawers.


At this stage of my life, I have less need for stationery than say, my teenage days. Thanks to technology, almost 90% of my work happens on a computer or an iPad, which requires zero stationery whatsoever.

However, I do keep some stationery with me because I do a bit of arts & crafts, and also enjoy keeping a physical, paper-based notebook for my to-do lists and bullet journaling (although this too is possible to do completely digitally nowadays). I am also a stationery lover, and can go a little out of control in stationery shops.

Whether you love stationery or not, or you need them or not, it is inevitable that you will own some - and so let’s find ways to reduce or eliminate the waste in this category!



Eliminate: It is now very easy to eliminate the use of paper, what with laptops and iPads and Adobe Acrobat. You no longer need to print something to be able to read it, and even official documents can be signed digitally!

Reduce: If you are old-school, however, and enjoy printing stacks of paper for whatever purpose, you are in luck as paper is recyclable and the infrastructure to recycle them is quite sophisticated. Not printing is, of course, the better way, but the next best thing you can do is to ensure your waste paper go to the right place for recycling.

think before you print

Substitute: If you do absolutely need to print, then do so on recycled paper. Be a patron of recycled products and encourage others to do the same!


Eliminate: Get rid of cheap disposable pens that don’t last long in use, but last forever in the landfill. (In fact, avoid disposables altogether). Even if these pens are labeled as ‘Eco’ because they’re made of bamboo or orange peels or magic, they are still trash at the end their useful life (unless they are refillable!)

Substitute & Buy to Last: Opt for good quality, refillable pens that last a long time, and that can also potentially be passed down from generation to generation. Have one or two excellent pens instead of ten crappy ones, and see the difference. I use fountain pens, that are not as expensive as you think they are - I bought mine for less than RM50 (~USD15), while a bottle of ink set me back another RM15 (~USD 5) and lasts for a year of use (the ink, not the pen. The pen can last you your lifetime with good care). To get started on fountain pens, go here.

fountain pen and ink pot

It doesn't cost much to be this posh!


Recycle / Compost: The beauty of pencils is that they are designed to be used down to little stubs that can be composted. Even the pencil shavings from sharpening the pencil can be composted! Truly a rare creature in the universe of products these days.

pencil stubs

My father's well-used ittty bitty pencil stubs

Substitute: If you use mechanical pencils made of plastic, consider switching to the wood-based pencils that can be easily composted.

Buy to Last: If you prefer mechanical pencils (like I do), the best option here is to buy a quality one and use them for years (mine has lasted me more than half a decade now). At the end of its life, they can be recycled in parts - if you are in the USA, send them to TerraCycle.

mechanical pencil

My own mechanical pencil that has lasted me years, evidenced by the yellowing rubber!

Share: Another option for colour pencils is to participate in the sharing economy and not buy a whole set for yourself. If you are in a household, or in an office, or a community, consider buying a communal set rather than a personal set that can be shared with others around you, or consider borrowing from others who are willing to do so, especially if you only have sporadic need for them.


Eliminate: Unless you are in an office-setting that use up marker after marker on the surfaces of a lot white boards, consider eliminating markers completely. For personal, home and daily use, which probably only involves labelling things or colouring things rather than brainstorming things, other stationery can do the job.

Substitute: For brainstorming or presentation purposes, consider switching to black boards and chalk. For simple labelling, consider switching to refillable fountain pens or colour pencils.

Recycle (USA): Markers are a little tricky, and there are very few recycling facilities that take them. In the US, you have the option of sending them to TerraCycle, but in Malaysia? Not so much. Do consider the previous two options above instead.


Use up: Like wood-based pencils, erasers are meant to be used until they disappear off the face of the Earth. If used till the end of its useful life, there is nothing left to throw away.

Buy to Last: If you prefer those mechanical erasers (like I do), then buy a quality one and keep them forever. Mine has been with me since my high school days, and will hopefully remain with me until I die.

mechanical eraser

My mechanical eraser that has also been with me for over a decade


Eliminate: Given that most of our work now happens digitally, you may consider not even owning one, unless you’re a student who needs to write essays for school, or you’re writing your hopefully-best-selling novel by pen.

Recycle: If you truly need a means to cover up your inking mistakes, consider opting for the liquid version rather than the tape version, or those that come in recyclable packaging. Even though the correction tapes are technically refillable, the refills are made almost 75% out of plastic that get thrown out at the end of use. I hope one day the companies will figure out how to let us refill only the tape and not the entire plastic mechanism of rolling the tape out…

correction tape and refill

Don't. Just don't. Way too much plastic waste.


Recycle: Opt for products that come in recyclable packaging. Sticky Tapes typically come in rolls with a paper base that the tape is wrapped around, which can be recycled. As for glue, check to make sure the container is recyclable and ensure it goes to the right place at the end of its life. Blue or Green tack are also accepted by some recycling facilities (notably in Australia), though am not sure about Malaysia.

blue green tack

Blue/Green tack


Eliminate: Consider switching to digital reading with a Kindle, iPad or computer, and highlight sections of your book or textbook digitally. The beauty of this is that all your highlighted notes can be compiled together into one text file!

Substitute: Opt to underline with colour pencils (that are erasable!) instead of highlighters. Colour pencils can be composted at the end of their lives. Or check out these ECO Highlighter Pencils! *Not a product endorsement.


Reduce: As with paper, try to reduce the amount of printing you do and save on ink.

Recycle: After using up the ink, return the ink or toner cartridges to the distributor or sell them to companies that specialise in collecting empty cartridges: HP Planet Partners Program, Printer Bullet, T&C Ink Trading, DELL.

recycle printer ink and toner


Eliminate: All of the above can be eliminated with the use of digital tools: take notes on your computer or iPad, schedule digital reminders in your digital calendar, send emails or open up a chatting app and keep your digital files in your digital folders.

Reduce: If unable to eliminate, then try to reduce the use of the above items.

Recycle: Since they are all paper-based, they can easily be recycled at the end of their usefulness. If they are not paper based (say you’re using plastic folders), then switch to a paper-based product (like paper folders). If they are made of mixed materials (like a paper envelope with a plastic window), then separate the two materials and put each in their respective recycling bin (unless your recycling facility accepts them the way they are).


Buy to Last: All the tools listed above are things you need only buy once, so buy a really good quality one that will last you a lifetime and beyond. There won’t be any need to throw them away.

buy me once

Speaking of buying things that last, check out the Buy Me Once website!


Eliminate: If all of your work happens digitally, there will not be a need for paper clips or staples.

Reduce: There is always that inevitable document that we need to print, especially when it comes to legal matters, so one can’t always totally run away from the use of paper clips, staples, etc, but as much as possible, use only when necessary.

Reuse: Except for staples, paper clips and rubber bands can be reused endlessly (or at least until the stretchiness of the rubber band disappears!)


I think I’ve covered most of the typical stationery items, but if I have missed out on anything, let me know in the comments below!



Achievement Award: Eliminate altogether the use of the stationery item or switch to long-lasting, buy-once-only alternatives.

Points For Effort: Opt for stationery products with less packaging, or with recyclable containers.

Um, Maybe Not: A big believer in your human right to own as many stationery as you please? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.

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