Pencils, Promises and an “R”

Leslie Garrett by Leslie Garrett | September 30th, 2010 | 4 Comments
topic: Green Living

No. 2 pencils

My kids started school a few weeks ago. Along with new binders and some recycled paper, they took with them pencils. Despite technology’s steady advance into our lives, we still need pencils. Albeit my children’s pencils were Forest Stewardship Council–certified, meaning the wood for them came from sustainably managed forests.

But still … pencils. And we’re not the only ones. According to Rebecca Rothney, who operates the Web site, pencils are one of the most requested items from developing countries around the world. Sure, they also need stethoscopes. Antibiotic ointment. Balls, books and bandages. But frequently they ask for pencils. It humbles me. To think that the difference between the haves and the have-nots can come down to the lowly pencil. That the ubiquitous yellow HB is emblematic of our excess (honestly, I must have dozens of pencils in every drawer of my home) and many others’ lack.

Yet these pencils represent hope. Higher education. The ability to grasp the future with a firm hand. And I have zillions. Forgotten, lost, discarded. In purses, drawers and beneath sofas. Strangely, many of these pencils that threaten to overtake my home come from the parts of the world that need them most. According to D.C.’s Worldwatch Institute, the 18 million pencils imported annually into the U.S. come mostly from Indonesia, China, Thailand and Brazil. The rubber for the tiny pink erasers generally comes from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. And the graphite from South Korea and Austria.

And they come to my family via birthday party loot bags. Logo-embossed giveaways. The Easter Bunny. What the Easter Bunny perhaps overlooks, as he dispenses pink, yellow and blue-decorated pencils with abandon, is the environmental havoc wreaked by pencils. The herbicides sprayed on the cedar forests. The (primarily) cedar trees lost to pencils. The contaminated water. The pollution from manufacturing and export.

There are, increasingly, “eco” choices to satisfy the world’s need for pencils. Pencils made from recycled newspaper. FSC-certified pencils that come from sustainably managed forests. And … that old standby: reuse. A simple pencil sharpener can render most of those stubs in my drawers perfectly usable. Amazing really. And simple.


  1. I have never even thought about pencils being environmentally ‘unfriendly’! Maybe because I do not have children and I mostly use pens – but it makes perfect sense. Everything we are learning about how to consume in an environmentally friendly manner can become overwhelming. We just need to remember that the choices we make when shopping drive demand and ultimately forces manufacturers to make better decisions on the supply side.

    Tracey | October 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Yes, I agree with the last point of your article about “eco” choices. As an eco-conscious parent, I want to make sure that my child back to school time is as earth-friendly as it can be.

    Alvaro Butler | November 11th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. There’s just something to physically holding a pencil rather than simply typing. It makes art and creativity so much more of an experience sometimes.

    Anonymous | December 13th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. I guess everyone needs pencils despite of their unfriendliness for our environment. Students, architects, designers, etc. use them a lot. The only solution we can think of is using alternative stuff for pencils.

    architects | June 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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