Tuesday, May 6, 2008

#218 - I'll Pencil You In

Choosing Pencils Over Pens


This is the fourth change in my month-long pledge to give up plastics for Crunchy's Extreme Eco-Throwdown.

Why is it that once you pass the age of twelve, using a pencil feels so juvenile? Who determined that pens were for grown ups and pencils for kids? Is it because we want to see ourselves as so infallible that we no longer have need for an eraser?

In truth, the only occasions that require a pen are those that legally bind us to an agreement. Whether it's something complex as signing a mortgage or as mundane as putting your John Hancock on a check, legal agreements are really the only items that require ink. Everything else, however, can be done in pencil. The grocery lists, the to-do lists, random doodles and blog ideas - all these and more can be done with a old fashioned pencil.

Why does it even matter? Because the majority of pens found in our homes and offices are disposable pieces of crap. The body of the pen is generally made from plastic and the ink is a combination of solvents, pigments, dyes, resins, lubricants, solubilizers, surfactants, particulate matter, fluorescers, and other materials. I wonder what the river that runs by that factory looks like.

A pencil, on the other hand, is made from a mixture of graphite and clay encased in a wooden sheath, with perhaps a rubber eraser attached to one end. Couldn't be simpler or more natural. Unless I was writing on a cave wall with like, a charred stick or piece of dried animal dung or something.

And unlike a disposable pen, when a pencil is used up, it's used up. There's nothing left save some wood shavings, a nub of eraser and a metal ring. A pen, on the other hand, still retains all its plasticky likeness - an empty shaft to be tossed in the landfill where it may or may not degrade in a thousand years or so. And since Bic alone has sold over one hundred billion disposable ballpoint pens since the 1950's, you can imagine the tons and tons of waste these hollow cylinders create.

So I'm giving up plastic pens in favor of pencils. I don't see myself signing a new mortgage anytime soon and maybe by then I'll have found a nice aluminum or stainless steel refillable fountain pen. In the meantime, though, you'll find me with an old #2 in my hand (and by that I mean the pencil, not the poo).

19 comments:

organicneedle said...

Hmmmmm....animal dung....my letters to the Gap might be much more effective if I took a more natural approach to correspondence.

Mary Elizabeth said...

I can't remember if you know, but I work in an alterations room - we use pencils for scheduling - because life is subject to change. But we also use pencils for folk to sign the back of carbon copy when they pick up their dress - once space if they've tried on, one if they accept it as is because pen does Not write well on the back of carbon copy. I'm always surprised at how many people comment, "Wow, it's been forever since I've used a pencil" or "That's a great pencil"..well, and of course, "Uh, I'm signing this with pencil??!" wherein I havta splain about the pen on carbon copy issue;)

But you're right, at my home you hafta look harder for a pencil. My husband has a lathe and makes pens and mechanical pencils though.

eco 'burban mom said...

Actually, when I write with pencil I think I write a little neater. I am pretty sure it's a throw-back to being 7 years old writing the alphabet with old Mrs. McCracken hovering over my shoulder! But, point taken (ha ha, pun intended!), a pencil DOES make more eco-sense and if my grocery list is a little neater, maybe I will actually only buy what's on it?!? :o)

Heather said...

Hmm. You know, I never thought about it. I always pass up pencils because it's such a pain to sharpen them (yeah, like I can't spare a moment. I'm so lazy!). Everything else is just so convenient. It's also so wasteful. Thanks for the tip!

Green Bean said...

Great point. I'd never thought of this and lord knows we have enough random Valentines, Cars, Spiderman pencils around here from random party favor bags that I could never buy another writing implement again. Brilliant!

jessierose said...

I've actually started using a pencil more often as well! I have a nice, metal, refillable pen that I use when I must use a pen, but I prefer pencil. I write neater with a pencil, I think because there is more resistance as I write.

When I started using a pencil for non-essential stuff at work, I realized that the only pencil sharpeners at work were electric, and the only pencil sharpeners in the catalogue were electric. I had to go buy a little plastic manual sharpener.

Verde said...

Ha, a friend recently gave out packages of pencils as a gift. They were a specific pencil that meant something to her as a writer.

But you know, I had never contemplated the whole waste product of a pen before.

leslie said...

For a second there, when you said you could be found with a #2 in your hand, I thought you had indeed reverted to writing on the cave wall with said animal dung! :)

You get absolutely NO argument from me about the pleaseures of a pencil in hand. There are even some pencil specific links on my sidebar...

Beany said...

My father had a boss who signed everything with pencil. The bank let him do it since he was the local eccentric millionaire but any new contract signings often led to discussion breakdowns.

CindyW said...

I have a strange love for sharpening pencils. So when my daughter reached kindergarten, I volunteered to sharpen her pencils. Actually we fight for who gets to do it.

I too wonder about how many ballpoint pens we throw away. No one ever get fillers to reuse their pens any more. That is a darn shame.

I am curious though, are clickable pencils (using graphite) more environmentally friendly, since they don't require any wood? Just wondering

badhuman said...

Exactly. I've forced myself to use refillable pens for about a year now. The only problem is when I misplace it. Which is often. Fortunately, like a (good) bad penny, it keeps coming back.
Its amazing how little most people think about how much the smallest of things can have such an enormous impact. 100,000,000,000.00 pens. That's a lot.

Great post!
N. & J.

green with a gun said...

That sounds reasonable, cindyw.

Thing is, all forms of writing implement are prone to being lost. So you have to weigh up your rate of WID (Writing Implement Disappearance) against the fact that plastic doesn't break down, but wood and graphite do.

I don't write much these days, I type... some years ago I used to submit handwritten essays at university. I wouldn't today...

About all I write is shopping lists.

Sunshine Alternative Mama said...

I adore pencils, especially the Blackfeet pencils shown in your photo, and the Forest Choice too. Not only are pens wasteful, but so are disposable plastic pencils.

I'm a pencil sharpener too; I sat and sharpened all of my boys' colored pencils the other night. With a wood and blade sharpener, not an electric one. I probably sharpened 75 pencils; that's my meditation.

badhuman said...

I don't really like writing with pencils because they tend to smudge off so to be more eco I opt for a metal pen with a refillable cartridge. It's not the best option but it's a good compromise.

Fake Plastic Fish said...

I would totally use a clickable pencil if the refills didn't come in plastic containers that have to be thrown out.

I use pencils all the time, but for times when I need ink, I have two refillable fountain pens... one in my backpack and one at work. They use cartridge converters that let me fill them from a bottle of ink rather than throwing away a plastic cartridge when they run out. The brand I bought is Lamy. The outside is aluminum. There is plastic on the inside, but it's not disposable.

Just my 2 cents after returning to the world of living, awake people.

Chile said...

I like pencils, but I need to find a nice old-fashioned sharpener like they used to have mounted on the wall in gradeschool. I sold my electric sharpener a few months ago and my tiny handheld one is worthless.

Grad Green said...

This is a great idea. I never thought about the waste of pens before, but it's true. And I like pencils :)

lauren said...

I use wood pens with refillable ink from this company:

http://www.idline.com/idline/goodkindpen.aspx

The extra cool part is that the company packages their refills in a easily opened plastic package that has an address and spot for a stamp, so you can send it back to them for reuse. Then they mark the package with the number of times it has been reused.

Going Crunchy said...

I love this post!

I like to write only with the standard #2 pencils at work with the decent eraser. I hate the feel of cheap pencils for some reason.

I've gotten away from pens a tremendous amount at work and just don't have them around anymore.