Write, recycle, repeat: How to give new life to old pencils, pens, vinyl, and CDs

Thanks to a collection effort by an upcycling company, you don’t have to toss your old pens and mechanical pencils. File photo. Thanks to a collection effort by an upcycling company, you don’t have to toss your old pens and mechanical pencils. File photo.

Teri Kent runs Charlottesville’s Better World Betty, a non-profit organization and online resource for locals looking to shrink their impact on the environment. Every month, Betty—Kent’s ’50s-housewife-meets-earth-goddess alter ego—answers the most burning eco-questions from our readers about energy use, water, waste and recycling, transportation, and green buying. Send your inquiries her way.

Q: Any place for me to recycle old little stubby pencils? I hate to toss them and they’re too small to use.

A: There is a neat program run by recycling company TerraCycle that would love to have your used pens, mechanical pencils, sharpies, highlighters, etc.

You can join the program for free. Collect old writing instruments in a box (the box must weigh over seven pounds), and download a free shipping label from terracycle.com for easy mailing. Click the “send your waste” tab at the top and scroll down to the “Writing Instruments Brigade.”

They accept: pens and pen caps; mechanical pencils; markers and marker capsules; permanent markers and permanent marker caps; highlighters and highlighter caps.

After you send your used writing utensils, TerraCycle upcycles them into new, innovative products. In return, you’ll receive TerraCycle points, which you can redeem for charitable gifts, products, or payments to a nonprofit or school of your choice.

Unfortunately, old school wooden pencils with lead don’t make the list, and it’s generally not possible to recycle wood and metal fused together. So extend the life of your pencils with a spiffy new eraser, and check out fun pencil crafts online (e.g. picture frames) that will let you repurpose them when their useful lives are over.

Q: I have inherited or accumulated loads of old vinyl records, cassette tapes, and CDs, and I would like to know the best way to get rid of my music stuff without tossing it into the landfill.

A: If you are talking large quantities and you’re interested in starting a collection at a community church, school, or other organization, I recommend getting in contact with Greendisk.com (also at (800) 305-DISK). The county school system partners with them, and they take all sorts of techno-trash, from PCs to CDs.

If we’re talking smaller amounts, a locally based solution might be to visit an area music store. All of these are within walking distance of the Downtown Mall:

  • Sidetracks (218 Water St. W., 295-3080) may buy your old CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes and records if these items still have retail value. They’ll give you cash on the spot. They will also take any old items regardless of retail value. Such devices will either be properly recycled or turned into up-cycled art.
  • Gwen at Melody Supreme (115 Fourth St. SE, 760-3618) may take your vinyl records. The store is open from 11am-6pm seven days a week and later on Friday and Saturday nights. He’s happy to buy back records that have retail value.
  • Low Records (105 Fifth St. SE, 882-2825), owned and operated by DJs and musicians, is open from noon to 6pm and is “always buying,” according to vinylhunt.com’s website.

A good day to visit: Record Store Day, which is coming up on April 19.—Teri Kent

  • Sheryl Rodgers

    Sorry but TerraCycle doesn’t accept pencils. 🙁

    • emmatai88

      If they are plastic mechanical pencils they will! I recycle all of my mechanical pencils! I have not thrown one away in over 10 years!

      • Sheryl Rodgers

        So what do you do with your good ol’ fashioned pencils?

        • emmatai88

          I throw them in with the paper since they are wood:)

  • emmatai88

    Yes! I do it all of the time! You can now throw the whole pen,marker,and mechanical pencil in recycling. They will get ground up and the plastic particles will automatically get separated from the metal with a magnet to get melted into a new item:) Also Terracyle does it too for free or just use the blue recycle bin:)

  • emmatai88

    All recyclable!:) Blue Bin or Terracycle.

  • Gaamosh

    Best use for old mechanical pencils: use as soldering-tin extruders. You can get tin in 0.7 or .5 mm, and the mechanical pencil dispense the tin just like it does graphite. At least until you accidentally melt them with your iron (assuming they’re made of plastic), then you can send the to the recycler’s and move on to a new (old) mechanical tin-extruder.

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