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The stuff that pens are made of

The research department at Faber-Castell makes sure you get quality pens that you can enjoy for a long time. This is where plastics play an important role. Plastics ensure that liquids stay that way for longer and that a pen grip is robust. Plastics open up innovative new perspectives for the future.

A lot of our products would be unthinkable without plastics, says Sigmar Lindner, Senior Manager Plastics at Faber-Castell. At least not with this kind of quality. At the same time, he is aware that plastics have a negative association because they are often seen as being cheap, or problematic for proper disposal. Not all plastics are the same. Spacecraft and aircraft wouldn’t be possible without plastics, nor would medical technology or windmills. The level of quality also required in all kinds of other areas simply wouldn’t be possible without high-performance plastics. Plastics become a problem when they are used to create single-use throw-away products, but they can also help reduce waste.

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For the long life of a pen

A writing utensil lasts longer when its casing is so robust that it isn’t damaged by daily use. Plastic can be more scratch-resistant than wood or metal. Faber-Castell ballpoint pens have casings made out of hard thermoplastics like ABS or SAN. This means the pen can be refilled while the casing can continue being used for a long time.

The same is true for pens that dry out easily, making it particularly important for the cap to be thoroughly airtight so that the pen has a longer life both inside and out. This is true of artist pens such as the Pitt Artist Pen, where all the pen parts are deliberately made out of plastics for this reason. Not only the outer casing, but also the seal, the ink cartridge and the nib. High-performance plastics ensure that a pen can meet higher quality standards and have a longer life.

Faber-Castell faces similar challenges with its cosmetic products. Here, cosmetic companies are supplied with make-up pens ranging from eyeliner and mascara to lipstick. Just like with felt-tip pens, plastics are used in cosmetic pens to stop them drying out and to allow them to last longer. “With the exception of our wooden cosmetic pencils, all of our other cosmetic products have parts made from plastics,” explains Christian Eisen, Vice President of Sales & Innovation at Faber-Castell Cosmetics. “We simply can’t do without them."

The use of plastics in pens ensures that they have a longer life and are therefore more sustainable.

Sigmar Lindner, Senior Manager Plastics at Faber-Castell

More sustainability, less waste

If a pen has a stronger casing, the ink is more protected, and the pen is usable for a longer time – which means that there is less waste. It gets even better with Textliner pens where the fluid can be refilled. With these pens it is particularly important that the pen is well sealed.

Not all plastics are the same. In order to avoid single-use disposable plastic, Faber-Castell is taking a close look at packaging. Over the next few years, all plastic packaging is to be progressively replaced with alternative materials such as recycled paper fibres, cardboard or recycled plastic. The aim is to reduce the amount of plastic in packaging by five percent every year.

“Environmental responsibility has been a top priority for decades,” Lindner says emphatically. For several years now Faber-Castell has been looking into what kind of innovative and sustainable ideas can be developed around plastics, for example in recycling. In 2016, Faber-Castell started manufacturing pens from purely reused plastic, called recyclate. The first product using these materials was the Ecco Pigment Fineliner made from plastics that come from car door handles. In the meantime, the Textliner Pastell and the Textile Marker are both predominantly made out of recyclate. Faber-Castell has made it a medium-term goal to replace plastics with recyclates as much as technically possible. This requires a great deal of chemical and engineering know-how.

Future perspectives are bioplastics based on organic material

The biggest challenge with recyclates is the purity of the materials. “It takes a lot of experience from our specialists in the plastics colour laboratory to be about to adjust colours precisely,” explains Lindner. Recyclates are not necessarily one pure colour, which makes colouring them a tricky task.

Another alternative for research and development is organically based plastics called bioplastics that are not made from crude oil but rather made from organic material like corn or castor oil. Faber-Castell’s cosmetics customers have recently become particularly interested in these kinds of materials. Bioplastics already exist, but don’t necessarily fulfil the kind of established functions that have been made possible through specially developed high-performance plastics.

This means that a great deal of research is required in order for the experts at Faber-Castell to be sure that bioplastics can meet the same quality standards that have characterized the product portfolio until now. “My dream would be to create bioplastics that can be recycled,” says Eisen enthusiastically. “But that is still a pipe dream.” What is already clear is that quality, research and sustainability should go hand in hand. "After all, we bear responsibility for our environment," Lindner affirms. "And we want to live up to that responsibility as much as possible with our innovations.”

We focus on the development of sustainable products.

Christian Eisen, Vice President of Sales & Innovation at Faber-Castell Cosmetics

Plastics – where does the word come from?

The word plastic comes from the Latin word ‘plasticus’ and the Greek word ‘plastikos’, both meaning 'able to be molded, pertaining to molding'. This word was adopted for the first synthetic materials and is now commonly used to describe synthetic material made out of crude oil. But the term is ambiguous – synthetically made materials derived from organic materials are also called plastics as long as they are artificially produced. In the 16th century, a Benedictine monk developed the plastic casein by heating cheese.