According to the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) over three billion retractable ball point pens and over 500 million mechanical pencils were shipped in the US in 2007. Many have since been lost – try looking down the back of the sofa – and will probably find their way into landfill. To address this problem Paper Mate has introduced a line of biodegradable pens and pencils that feature components that break down in soil or home compost in the space of a year.

Paper Mate’s Biodgradable line is made from Mirel, a bioplastic whose primary raw material is corn sugar (dextrose) derived from a corn wet milling process. Mirel is a polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polymer that naturally occurs within certain organisms, including microbes, which use PHA to to store energy, consuming it for food when needed. It is this characteristic that gives Mirel its biodegradability in ambient temperature environments including natural soil and water environments, and in home composting systems.

As Mirel is heat and moisture resistant Paper Mate assures us the pens won’t biodegrade sitting in a warehouse or from the occasional chew. In fact because they rely on microbes present in natural soil and water environments the pens aren’t even designed to biodegrade in landfills. However, in normal temperature conditions found in soil or home compost the biodegradable components will biodegrade in about a year.

Although the majority of the pen and pencil components are biodegradable, users will still have to disassemble and remove the non-biodegradable components which still need to be disposed of in the trash.

Paper Mate’s Biodegradable line is available now and includes a retractable ball point pen available with black, blue, red or purple ink (no green surprisingly), and mechanical pencils in 0.5 or 0.7mm lead sizes.