2 kids, 30 boxes and a clean desk drawer

2 kids, 30 boxes and a clean desk drawer

Picture it. You have an emergency message to jot down, so you grab the nearest pen … and it’s dry. So you grab another pen, and another, then finally find the Holy Grail … a pen that works! You chicken-scratch that message and all is well.

Though some us acknowledge the dry pen’s lifespan and toss it, many of us (cough, me, cough) put it back in the drawer, hoping it will come back to life, dreading its demise in landfill. This, of course, means repeating the whole frustrating process another day.

If you too have a drawer full of expired pens, I have good news! What once could only go to landfill can now go to a special recycling program (no, not the blue bin, please don’t put pens in the blue bin).  We have a new program called “Operation Ecopen”

What goes in?

Gather your dry markers, highlighters, pens, mechanical pencils and all the caps that go with them. These go to Staples who not only recycle them through Terracycle, they donate 2 cents each to Earth Day Canada.

This is all thanks to 2 caring kids (Derek and Luke Nguyen, below) who started this program back in 2015. They also built us a ton of boxes, delivered through their dad, a doctor next door at Mount Sinai Hospital. We have 30, though most have been snapped up by our fantastic green team to collect in their areas. We are also sending these babies out to Patient Libraries at the different hospital/rehab locations at UHN.

Derek and Luke Nguyen founded Operation EcoPen in the summer of 2015 after watching their mom bring pens to Staples to get recycled. Derek figured, “Why not collect pens at our schools and at work?” Luke named the campaign Operation EcoPen and designed the collection box.

Unfortunately, regular wood pencils are not in this program, just mechanical pencils. On the plus side, your old wooden pencil should not be thrown out till it shrivels to a tiny stump, so less waste. It will also break down way faster in landfill than a mechanical pencil or pen would have. If you have a green bin program, pencil shavings can usually go in it (depending on your municipality). Another way to write greener is refillable pens … another old idea that’s new again.

“We use up a lot of resources and it’s not really fair to future generations,” Luke said. “Recycling even really small things that we use everyday can make a huge difference if everybody does it.”

Well said!

P.S. a big thanks goes out to Tracey Clatworthy and all the Sinai Greens for making this special recycling program possible at UHN. That’s good neighbours for you.

P.P.S. have an EcoPen Box in your area and want to promote it more? Matt Riepert of our Research Green Team made this lovely flyer you can share.

Operation Ecopen Graphic - byMattRiepert

Operation Ecopen Graphic-byMattRiepert


7 thoughts on “2 kids, 30 boxes and a clean desk drawer

    • Hi Barb,
      The hydro building has a box on the 7th floor at the reception desk. A full list of locations is coming soon!



    • Thanks for asking! I know the very good group in the Radiation Medicine program took some bins. You can talk to Veng Chhin, also the lead in their green team.


    • Hi Arv, You will find them at PMH in the Patient and Family Library, Also 1B by the recognition tree, 2B Cobalt lounge, on 3 in the patient wait room, and a few more throughout. A full list is coming soon.


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