Wooden pencils are one of the most common products you may think about. They are everywhere, and you probably don’t even know how many you have at home until the moment when you need one and you can’t find it. The history behind them is gripping, they are simple, effective and safe (those made of graphite and clay are for normal human usage), could we ask for more? Yes actually, since to manufacture a wooden pencil you need, well, wood, which entails cutting a tree somewhere.
Green Pencils Limited is a company based in Kenya that started producing pencils and pens from recycled paper. And it turns out that their effort is definitely worth, because the environmental impact of the production of wooden pencils is not irrelevant at all.
Environmental impact of pencils
Wooden pencils are made out of various types of wood, but the most common one is by far cedar, followed by pine and spruce. Some statistics that can be considered quite conservative (source: Every Fact Ever) claim that a Cedar can make 300,000 pencils, while any other type of average-size tree can make 170,000. On average, we may calculate that around 230,000 pencils can be manufactured out of a single tree. Since according to the same source around 15 billion pencils are made every year, this means that around 64,000 trees need to be cut every year to produce pencils.
Even without thinking about land and biodiversity conservation, how much CO2 would these 64,000 trees absorb? Since on average a tree can absorb 22Kgs of carbon dioxide per year (Source: I Plant trees just in case), we may safely assume that producing wooden pencils prevents the absorption of over 1400 tonnes of CO2 per year. Around the amount released by 6000 flights from London to Rome (Source of the carbon emission per flight: The Guardian).
And there is more to consider. How many years will it take for another tree to grow to the same size and age as the one cut down to make the wooden pencil? Out of every 100 trees/seedlings planted, how many actually survive/grow to maturity? How much carbon dioxide would have been absorbed by the mature trees cut down, as compared to the growing seedlings? Trees take many years to grow. When used consistently, how long does a pencil last?
64,000 mature trees per year is lot of trees and CO2 for something that you probably take for granted, isn’t it?
It is true that many pencil manufacturers are particularly good at using strictly sustainable sources of cedar, but if we could produce the same item using recycled paper, wouldn’t it be better? After all, should we still be cutting down trees to make pencils, when paper is still finding its way to the landfills, if it is not littered or burnt (which, additionally, emits particulates and gaseous air to the atmosphere)? This especially when discarded paper and paperboard make up roughly 26% of solid municipal waste in landfill sites (Source: Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet).
From the concept to the product
While producing pencils and pens out of recycled newspaper, Green Pencils Ltd is reducing the consumption of wood by 100%, preventing trees to be cut, and that of plastic (in pens) by 90% according to their stats. Moreover, they give a second life to newspapers, which will neither be burned, increasing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, nor will end up in landfills (check out this selection of TED talks if you want to frame Green Pencils Ltd’s mission into the bigger picture of sustainable consumption and production).
And if this were not enough, the Kenyan company, based in Nairobi, has an eye on the community and is offering a job to many women and men looking for employment. As they claim, ‘by deliberate design, much of our work is handcrafted. This makes us a very labor-intensive organization [and] we have created jobs to form a motivated workforce to manufacture the branded environment-friendly pencils and pens’. People are not only contributing to the manufacturing process, but also to the collection and the supply of old newspapers, thus offering an additional service to the community.
Everything started with the idea to create a useful, competitive product using recycled material, and why not pencils, since they have such a big demand? In order to create one of these eco-friendly ones, the paper has to be firmly rolled around the graphite and then go through some further patented processes, so that the item solidifies and obtains the correct shape. The last step is esthetical, but crucial, as it entails branding pencils as per the clients’ needs, thus transforming a basic writing tool into a marketing tool to be used in business events and brand promotion, as in all sorts CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives. Green Pencils sells to supermarkets /retailers and to organizations (commercial or not) that want to show and spread environmental awareness.
The items manufactured by Green Pencils are unique, as no two pencils look alike. This is especially useful when using pencils in shared spaces e.g. schools, offices, workshops and so on. They are also long-lasting since the technology used to manufacture them produces pencils that write more per inch/centimeter, and they are longer than the regular wooden pencils in the market.
Moreover, the Kenyan company is now manufacturing pencils that have various seeds at the end of them instead of the usual erasers. When a pencil like this gets finished, just plant it!
Green Pencils Ltd is always looking for innovative ways to support their community. Here are a few examples of their CSR initiatives:
- Donating to Needy Children: Green Pencils Ltd has donated over 100,000 pencils to needy children in schools. In most of these schools, the students hardly wear school shoes, have no uniform or wear old and torn ones. For most of their parents or guardians, buying a pencil can be a luxury as there are greater and more pressing needs, e.g. buying some little food for their children and family. A packet of 12 environment-friendly pencils is enough to last for a whole term including the school holiday. You too can be a part of this by donating a packet to a needy child.
- COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring food security for the needy / Training farmers: Kenya’s agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming and is carried out mostly on a subsistence basis. They supply about 75% of the national food demand. The lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic have greatly disrupted the supply chains. It is only a matter of time before the quantity of food supplied nationally by the small-scale farmers reduces. Fortunately, the founders of Green Pencils own 30 acres of land bordering a river. To help improve on the food security during this trying time, they have given their neighboring community access to their land to grow organic-food which will be given out to needy families during the entire course of the pandemic, with the hope that this will act as a pilot project for other landowners and their neighboring communities to emulate during this turbulent time. In addition, Green Pencils are striving to form partnerships with interested parties and organisations to train the small-scale farmers to enable them unlock their agricultural potential. (For instance, in Kenya, many small scale farmers harvest about 9 tonnes of onions per acre. With proper knowledge and guidance, they can attain a global average of 20 to 25 tons per acre.) In their farm, Green Pencils will also seek to train and encourage families to engage in gunny-bag (vertical) farming.
- COVID-19 pandemic, providing isolation space for needy COVID-19 patients: Getting a hospital bed for a COVID-19 patient in Kenya is now becoming a great challenge. The government is encouraging for home-based care and isolation as an alternative. However, for those who live in informal settlements, this alternative is not practical as many families (or even two families) live in a single room (separated by just curtains at night). Therefore isolating a sick person from the rest of the family is not possible in such settings. To help alleviate this problem, Green Pencils Ltd is donating 5 acres of their land in a very isolated area to be used as a temporary hospital during this turbulent time of COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, they are looking for well-wishers who can help put up temporary structures or even tents that can cater for one person at a time. The structures or tents should be equipped with beds, ventilators, and other necessary equipment as advised by the medical personnel. They believe this space, if well utilized, will go a long way in helping the needy especially during these difficult times.
How to support
- Show Green Pencils Ltd your support by backing any of its CSR initiatives!
- Interested in buying any of these amazing pencils packs? Are you thinking about your next promotional item for your company’s CSR event or campaign? Are you a school that is looking for a supply of eco-friendly pencils? Contact Geen Pencils Ltd and place your order!
- You can follow Green Pencils on
- You can support Green Pencils Ltd even by simply sharing this article on your favorite social networks. Spread the word!