The quest for greener pencils

Pencils and pens - all made of plastic
Pencils and pens – all made of plastic

The late and very great Ian Dury wrote songs on giant sheets of paper “with a fast pencil” and it’s stuck in my mind because I dearly love a fast pencil myself. My favourite writing implement is the cheapest of the cheap mechanical pencils; they look like the Reliant Robins of the stationery world but they corner like racing bikes. A wooden pencil blunts and slows down in no time at all and I’ve never mastered the art of having a posh pencil and separate packet of leads at the same time, so cheap disposable mechanical pencils it has always been. And they’re fast.


But an unexpected side-effect of achieving our Silver Award for Green Tourism is that all my shopping choices are slowly becoming greener. So when someone walked off with my last pencil I found myself searching online for greener alternatives to these little plastic tubes I write with.

It turns out that there is almost nothing available retail. You can get ball point pens in cardboard casings a thousand at a time from businesses that supply freebies to conferences. (I refuse all plastic freebees now,  saying “there is too much plastic in the world” and the people on the stands always sigh and say “yes”). The smallest quantity I found was 50. So if you want 50 pens in cardboard tubes, here you go.

I’ve not found any mechanical pencils in the UK that are both “disposable” and “recyclable”, made out of materials you can actually recycle like cardboard, wood or bamboo.  The best I have managed is ones that are made of recycled plastic which closes the recycling loop, but plastic is plastic and it’s not clear if you can recycle it again. I rarely throw them away anyway: I lose or involuntarily “share” them long before the last lead is finished. For what it’s worth, they’re here, with a slightly smarter option here. (I do wish I had found this section of the Ethical Superstore sooner, I’d have bought the coloured pencils for our Activity box and the corn-starch handled scissors for the kitchen. Throwing out what’s already bought is completely pointless, but next time I need scissors I know where to come.)

I know I should buy proper pencils and sharpen them and I have a couple of rather fine brass pencil sharpeners which it would be good to use. But will they be fast enough…..? On the other hand, can I justify buying and disposing of yet more plastic?

These are decisions we all make for ourselves and we all do the best we can.

Updated May 27th: I did buy wooden pencils which I sharpen with my brass pencil sharpener. They aren’t as sharp, but they’re retro, right?

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