Both varieties of pencil have their downside. On the one hand, mechanical pencils are made of plastic. More specifically, they’re usually made from polystyrene. The process of making a single mechanical pencil, which contains about 10 grams of polystyrene, uses an average of 22 grams of oil. And, of course, plastic is not biodegradable. Even if it’s ultimately recycled, it will never fully break down.
On the other hand, wood pencils are obviously made from trees, and this is a problem because it contributes to deforestation. It’s not as much of a problem as, say, logging because a single cedar tree can make hundreds of thousands of pencils, but it’s still a problem. Ultimately, the manufacturing of a wood pencil requires less energy than the manufacturing of a mechanical one, and the wood from the pencil can be composted. If you want to eliminate the problem of using trees to make pencils, you can purchase pencils that are made from recycled wood, newspapers, or other biodegradable products. This site sells pencils made from recycled newspapers.
If you want to be environmentally conscious about your writing materials, your best bet would be to use a pencil made from wood because it’s not as damaging to the environment as one made from plastic. With wood pencils, you also have the option of purchasing products made from recycled materials.
Ooooh, interesting question.
Wood pencils today are mostly graphite sandwiched in cedar. Graphite is not replenishable, but it’s not particularly scarce, either. Cedar is replenishable, biodegradable.
Mechanical pencils substitute the cedar wood for something else. Usually plastic and metal. It’s basically whatever is cheap and works well. Environmental impact? Well, it’s metal and/or plastic vs. Cedar wood. The wood wins.
It might be argued that mechanical pencils are better because just the graphite is used up. Uhm, maybe in some perfect world. But I regularly lose pencils, and that includes … as I think about it … four that were all quite expensive. (Our dog chewed up one of my mechanical pencils!)
Any time at all you see $, think environmental impact. That gold-plated mechanical Cross pen my aunt gave me cost a packet. Omg, I’m checking the Cross site, now. Looks to me like this idiotic thing costs over $50. And I’ve never used it.
So that’s $50 of environmental damage to absolutely no purpose.
In case you are on the fence about this one, consider that a wooden pencil is really a much more flexible tool. Turn it on its side, and it’s perfect for shading and other artwork. If you enjoy a very sharp point? No problem, the wooden pencil can do that for you. If you prefer fatter, easier-to-control tips? Nothing could be easier.
Overall, a mechanical pencil doesn’t offer much of any advantage, except to people who use them for draftsmanship in a professional environment. And there aren’t many of those left.
The URL below is a fantastically well-written article about the history and recent manufacturing of wooden pencils.
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