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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Again with the Recycled Pencils (for the Week of Sept. 28, 2008)

September 24, 2008

Q. Dear Twig: So what are those recycled pencils like?


A. Pretty much like regular pencils. You hold them the same. You write with them the same. I have one here in my hands. It's made out of recycled newsprint. It's painted green. The paint feels smooth. The graphite, the "lead," is normal gray.

I sniff the pencil. It doesn't smell like a regular pencil (which owes its scent to incense cedar wood.) I smell a tiny paint smell, though. But you have to have the pencil up your nose, or at least right under it, to detect it.

I taste it. Myem, myem. I doesn't seem to have any taste. (Spit.)

I sharpen it. I stick it into an electric sharpener. Rrr. The graphite comes out nice and pointy. The sharpened-down paper around it looks white.

I sharpen another one (same kind). The sharpened-down paper on this one looks white. But also: The white has these wavy red, blue and black lines in it. Neat.

That's all I have to say about pencils.



P.S. Hardened glue holds them together, so recycled pencils can be harder to sharpen.



Recycled pencils come painted in other colors besides green, of course. And the graphite/lead in them comes in other colors besides gray.

People have different opinions about the environmental benefits, or not, of recycled-material pencils, no matter if the material is newsprint, scrap wood, old money or old blue jeans. Making recycled pencils takes energy, of course — for grinding, shredding, forming them, etc. — plus non-"green" stuff like paint and glue. So there's that.

Pencils made out of trees, meanwhile, need cutting, shaping and so on. They also, ideally, should be sustainably managed. That means making sure that both the supply of trees and the health of the forest both stay good pretty much forever.

About This:

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly feature for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at, to and for a 4th-grade reading level.

For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776.

Online at

Kurt Knebusch