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Building a sustainable household is one thing, getting my children on board is another.
Extending your green lifestyle to the office or schoolroom is another challenge entirely.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to find eco-friendly alternatives to everyday supplies. You can even write notes with compostable pens now.
But one of the most sustainable writing utensils around could be the humble #2 pencil. Just don’t throw old pencil shavings in the trash!
Pencil waste is a nice first step to introduce kids to the joys of composting! That is right! pencil shavings are 100% compostable!
While I normally add my kids’ shavings to my Bokashi bucket, you can even add the shavings directly to your garden soil.
So, What Are Pencils Made Of?
The standard pencil can be broken into four components: wood, graphite, metal, and eraser.
The wood used in pencils comes from Incense Cedar. This wood is typically coated with non-toxic paint — paint is what gives #2 pencils that trademark yellow.
Pencil “lead” is made from graphite mixed with natural clay.
The metal band that holds the eraser on is called a ferrule. Nearly all pencil ferrules are made of aluminum.
Pencil erasers are made of a mixture of pumice and vinyl or rubber. Other ingredients may also be used to give the eraser a particular color or improve its function.
Do Pencils Contain Lead?
NO! It’s just a colloquial term for graphite.
Where did this misnomer come from?
The most likely source is actually the Roman Empire. Lead rods were a common writing utensil for centuries. When graphite was discovered as an even more efficient writing tool, it was incorrectly identified as “black lead.”
Unfortunately, we can’t say that real lead has never been used in mass-produced pencils. Lead-based paint was used to coat wooden pencils (among other consumer goods) until just a few decades ago.
Can Pencil Shavings Be Composted?
You can’t compost an entire pencil. But you can compost the shavings produced by sharpening a pencil!
Shavings are made up almost entirely of wood, graphite, and clay. All of these materials are organic and compostable.
As already mentioned, pencils often feature a layer of paint over the wood. While this paint isn’t necessarily compostable, it’s often biodegradable. Plus, pencil shavings contain a very small amount of this paint in the first place.
Some pencils, particularly those marketed to children, feature decorative coatings. These coatings may feature non-compostable materials like plastic and glitter.
If you’re unsure about adding specific pencil shavings to your compost, consider erring on the side of caution with an alternative disposal method like recycling.
What Is The Best Way To Compost Old Pencil Shavings?
The great thing about pencil shavings is that they’ve already been broken down into a very fine material.
You can easily place collected pencil shavings right into your compost bin — decomposition will happen quickly. Be sure to turn the compost to evenly distribute the shavings.
Avoid placing a large number of pencil shavings in your compost at once. For most, this won’t be an issue. But teachers and anyone else who collects LOTS of pencil shavings should space out their compost feedings.
Pencil shavings are considered brown matter that is rich in carbon. Pair this material with green matter like fresh grass clippings or kitchen scraps to maintain a balanced compost heap.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are colored pencil shavings compostable?
Colored pencils are made of the same wood as regular pencils. Yet we don’t always know what type of pigments are used to make colored pencil “lead.”
There’s no evidence that colored pencil shavings will cause any harm to your compost pile or garden soil. However, most people agree that whether or not to compost this material is a personal choice.
Are pencil ferrules recyclable?
Yes! Ferrules are made of aluminum, one of the most recyclable metals in the world. While ferrules are a very small source of consumed aluminum, every little bit counts!
Are pencil erasers recyclable?
Most often, no. Pencil erasers contain many different materials that, while recyclable on their own, are not easy to separate for individual processing. The vast majority of recycling centers have deemed erasers too difficult to process.
Recycling might not be possible. But you can still make a difference by reducing the number of erasers you consume and reusing them whenever possible.
Does cedar wood repel insects?
Some cedarwood, particularly that of the Western Red Cedar, naturally repels insects. Many gardeners use cedar mulch in their beds to keep pests at bay.
The wood used to make pencils is from a different species, California Incense Cedar, which may not be as effective a deterrent. However, it doesn’t hurt to try using old pencil shavings as a natural insect repellent!