I’ve become an honorary member of the Green Moms monthly blog carnival, which was great last month when the topic was global warming and I had to learn all about how waste is related to climate change. This month, however, the topic is “Back To School,” and I almost decided to bow out. I don’t have kids. I don’t go to school. And every other post I receive in my email box lately has something to do with the topic, so I felt I had nothing to contribute.
Nothing, that is, until I went shopping at Long’s with my friend Axelle on Friday, after taking Hobble to get her stitches out. (We put her cat box in the cart and let her ride through the store with us!) For some reason we found ourselves browsing in the school supplies aisle. Axelle was looking for… um… I can’t remember. And I was marveling at all the plastic plastic plastic. Until I spied a plain cardboard box of pencils called E+Co by Pentech. The box didn’t even have a plastic window. Hmmm… Could this be something I could recommend for “back to school?”
Check out the label on the box:
“Pencils made from 100% Recycled Bags. Packaging made from 100% Recycled Board. Ferrules are 100% recyclable. 100% Post Consumer Content Recycled.”
And now let’s ask the necessary questions about each of these statements.
1) Pencils made from 100% Recycled Bags. What kind of bags? Paper? Plastic?
2) Packaging made from 100% Recycled Board. What kind of board? What does that even mean?
3) Ferrules [the metal part that holds the eraser] are 100% Recyclable. In whose universe? Yes, they’re metal and could theoretically be recycled. But do you really think those tiny things are going to be sorted out from all the other recycling waste at the MRF? And yes, I did have to Google “ferrule.”
4) 100% Post Consumer Content Recycled. Which part? The box? The graphite? The outside of the pencil?
These pencils are made by Pentech, a subsidiary of JAKKS Pacific. So I decided to check them out online to find out more details. Unfortunately, neither the Pentech site nor the JAKKS site listed these pencils anywhere. So I had to wait until the next day to call the Customer Service number.
I spoke to Jonathan, who at first didn’t even believe the pencils I described were made by his company. I had to insist that I got the company’s number from the back of the box and that in fact it did say “Pentech” on it. Finally, after I read him the product code, he was able to look up the pencils but actually had very little information. So he took my number to find out and call back.
And call back he did. Turns out, the pencils are made from used plastic bags (which is what I was afraid of) and the erasers are latex-free, which means they’re also made from plastic.
So what’s wrong with a pencil made from recycled plastic bags? We need to use those bags for something right? Except that pencils get sharpened. Normal pencils will leave behind wood shavings that can be composted. These pencils will leave behind plastic dust that will linger in the environment, just like the tiny pieces of plastic floating in the gyre or the plastic microbeads we’re flushing down our drains these days.
It’s great when companies see a waste problem and try to find ways to recycle that waste. But in this case, I don’t think they’ve considered all the ramifications of their project. I like the plastic-free recycled cardboard box. Just not the product inside. I’ll be returning this item to Long’s the next time Arya and I feel like going shopping.
So what pencils should we use? I don’t have the definitive answer, but I’ll bet a bunch of the green moms in the Back to School carnival will have some great ideas. Check it out. It will be hosted at Mamabird’s Surely You Nest blog on Monday, September 7.