A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Staples Sustainable Earth Ruled Spiral Notebook (UPDATED with winner)

The Sustainable Earth line is the apparent successor to Staples' "bagasse" sugar-cane based paper, which has lots of rave reviews on the Fountain Pen Network. Many people were lamenting that Staples was no longer carrying the the bagasse looseleaf, so others were pointing out that the paper was available in notebooks under the new "Sustainable Earth" name.  With everybody clamoring for it so much, I had to pick up a notebook to try it out. (See the end of this post for giveaway details.)

The Review

Staples Sustainable Earth Spiral NotebookSo, is this sugar cane based paper as sweet as everyone at FPN says it is? For me, the answer is no, but it has more to do with the paper's feel rather than its performance. In fact, other than the feel of the paper, I like everything about this notebook quite a bit.

The FPN posters are right that this paper is very fountain pen friendly. I tried quite a few pen-and-ink combinations, and not one of them feathered significantly. Same for the gel pens and rollerball pens I tried. All of them, even the wettest fountain pens, delivered very sharp, crisp lines. Bleed-through was minimal, but show-through was quite significant with all the fountain pens, certainly too much for me to use both sides of the paper. Show-through was far milder with gels and rollerballs, enough so for me to consider using both sides of the paper with those pens, were it not for another problem.

Fountain Pen Ink on Staples Sustainable Earth Notebook

Gel and Rollerball Ink on Staples Sustainable Earth Notebookt 2011-01-20 at 5.14.48 PM

Bleedthrough and Showthrough  in Staples Sustainable Earth Notebook
Click the picture to see the show-through and mild bleed-through

Which brings me to my beef with the paper: it's very thin and feels crinkly. I didn't see a spec anywhere on the label, but it feels similar to the 15-lb. paper on the Staples graph pad. As a result, the pen leaves an imprint in the paper, so its difficult to use both sides even where show-through is not too bad. Maybe I need to develop a lighter touch.

In fact, the paper almost feels brittle, as if the corner is going to snap off when I turn the page. It doesn't, of course, but it feels like it could. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it's enough for me not to enjoy it. Every time I turn a page I think they could have used a roll of this stuff to test Grasshopper's stealth in Kung Fu:

I love almost everything else about this notebook, so let me give credit to Staples where it is due.

Cover. There is a variety of covers available, but what I really like about the cover is how sturdy it is. It's like the cover of a hard-bound book and feels virtually indestructible, and it's not just because the paper inside is so thin by comparison. I do have one small complaint. That's the inside front cover, which explains the environmental benefits of the sugar-cane based paper. I tend not to put much stock in green claims because I find they tend to be pronounced in a vacuum without mentioning offsetting environmental downsides.

Binding. This is not a twin wire binding. It is a true spiral binding, and it is quite impressive. Normally, I prefer twin wires because they seem stronger (two wires going through each hole in the paper) and less likely to snag on things. The ends of flimsy metal spiral bindings snag on things, start to unwind, and they are usually so flimsy that they crush easily. But the spiral binding on this notebook uses the thickest gauge wire I've ever seen in a spiral binding, and appears to be exceptionally sturdy. The ends are neatly tucked, unlikely to lose that position, and thus quite unlikely to snag on anything.

Spiral Binding on Staples Sustainable Earth Notebook
Fantastic spiral binding. LEFT: end nicely tucked. MIDDLE: wire gauge compared to Levenger twin ring wire binding; RIGHT: spiral binding means covers are not aligned when open.

Ruling. I didn't measure, but this looks to be college ruling. What I like about it is the pale beige color, similar to a Field Notes notebook, but the color is more neutral and the lines are somewhat thicker. Still, it's a good combination. The ruling guides you but is virtually unnoticeable when you read from the page.

Perforated pages. In my opinion, perforated pages are a must for any wire-bound notebook to be used at work. After a brief experience with bound Moleskine-like notebooks, I've decided that notes simply have to be detachable to be practical in a law office. The perforations make that practical because they eliminate the raggedy edges one gets from removing pages from a wire-bound notebook.

Pockets. There is a two-sided "kraft" pocket at the front of the notebook. Like the cover and binding, quite sturdy. A nice touch for such an inexpensive product.

Price. I missed this part of the discussion on FPN, but part of what bagasse paper lovers really loved about the paper is that it's very inexpensive. This notebook has 100 pages and costs only $3.99!

The giveaway

My first thought was to give away this notebook, but then I wondered if that wasn't defeating the "sustainable earth" aspect of it. Is it really worth the energy, fuel and cost to mail a $4 notebook? Would anyone interested even sign up if they can get one for $4 at Staples?  But, what the heck, a giveaway is a giveaway!

So, the usual giveaway sign-up procedures apply:

1. Leave a comment.

2. Send me an email at notebookeresqATgmail.com. The body of the email must include the name you used to comment and the subject line of the email must read exactly:


I need the email so I can be sure I can contact the winner. If you leave a comment without sending a proper email or email me without leaving a comment, you will not be entered.

I'm not setting a deadline. How long I let the entry period run depends on the number of entries, traffic, and whether this giveway makes it into this Saturday's "Ink Links" at The Pen Addict. I'll pick a winner when I'm ready.  Good luck!

UPDATE (1/27/11): And the winner is, SheilaM. I'll email you shortly, Sheila. Everyone else . . . I'll be posting another giveaway next week . . . just not sure what it will be yet. Come by again!



  1. I'm obsessed with thin, crinkly writing paper. I don't know why. I just love it. Also, I'm really diggin' the checkered cover there. Thanks so much for this giveaway!

  2. Would love to play with this. I don't have a heavy writing hand, so it'd be interesting to see what the comparison is!

  3. I love the Staples bagasse and would like a shot at your giveaway, please! And thanks for posting the review.

  4. This is exactly what I need for my college classes. A durable notebook. Love the color of the pages too. Hope I win!

  5. I've heard a lot of varying reviews about the quality of the Staples bagasse paper, so I'm glad that you wrote up an in-depth review of it! I think it sounds pretty cool and would love to try it out!

  6. Count me in for the giveaway! I just recently tried this paper and would love some more of it. I love how great it works for writing with my fountain pens, even with the showthrough. The crinkly-ness (is that a word?) doesn't really bother me. :)

  7. I'd like to try this kind of paper and would love to enter the giveaway, but i don't know if you can ship internationally, i've just discovered your blog by the link in The Pen Addict and i like your style, keep up the good work and thank you for this giveaway.

  8. Probably going to add this to my Google Reader feed. Thanks for the post and the giveaway! I will definitely be back to this blog.

  9. I have a few pads of the bagasse paper. Would love a notebook :)

    Thank you for the chance ^^

  10. I've been looking for onion skin paper with no luck, so this might be a second best. Please enter me in your giveaway and I will cross my fingers.

  11. Came here from The Pen addict. I'd love to win this.

  12. I like the color of the lines on the paper, although they are little thick. Count me in for the giveaway!