by Liesl Clark

You might say we have a lot of pencils. We do. Some families have good toy or book karma, ours has pencil karma. Pencils come into our home at an alarming rate. It’s mostly because we work with schools and communities to reduce their waste, and pencils seem to be an item that end up, oddly, in the trash, long before they’re used up.

There’s a Reason Why We Collect Pencils, Even Short Ones

It’s a pet peeve of my children, Finn and Cleo, seeing perfectly good pencils in trash cans. They’ve spent a lot of time in the Himalaya, where kids who speak no English greet us with hands outstretched saying “One Pen?” For years, Finn and Cleo thought these were the Nepali words for “Hello.”

Nope, the kids want something to write with and “pen” is easier to say than “pencil.” So, upon seeing a half-used pencil in the trash, a lightbulb goes off and Finn and Cleo collect them to take to Nepal and give to kids they meet. Pencil boxes and paper are a staple in their backpacks and whenever we stop in a village, kids often gather around and everyone partakes in an instant art party with pencils. Fun.

So, every year when we bring more books up to the children’s libraries we’ve started in remote corners of Nepal, Finn and Cleo bring as many pencils as they can to the libraries. Books are a key part of literacy, and so is writing. If kids can get their hands on pencils and paper, which we provide as best we can, their engagement in learning to read and write is intensified immediately. If the pencils disappear in 2-3 weeks from the library, that’s fine with us: Better for everyone to share them there, but if they’re taken home, we know they’ll be used lovingly. We have the same policy about the books, too. Scarcity models beget strange hoarding and hiding behavior. Sharing and openness about materials fosters use, joy, and creativity.

Pencils at the Phortse Magic Yeti Library

Use your pencils as long as you can, even to absurd stubbiness. They still work. Finn and Cleo have come up with a few ideas to prolong the life of your pencil stubs, tricks they’re taking with them to Nepal, to extend the life of the treasured graphite writing implements:

•The Gripper Pencil Life Extender: I’m not exactly sure what they’re called, but we’ve named them pencil grips. You know the kind, they’re sort of rubbery and you can slide them up your pencil to the middle to aid a child with their pencil grip. I had one once, that a teacher gave me as a hand boundary: I was not to hold the grip, it simply marked the highest point at which I could hold the pencil. Well, Cleo’s clever gripper pencil trash hack is the following:
1) Insert the eraser end of a stubby pencil into the pencil grip about an inch.
2) Do the same on the other end of the grip with another stubby pencil.

Gripper Pencil Extender, Step 2

3) Now you have a long double-sided pencil for continued use!  1 + 1 = 1

Gripper Pencil Extender

The Taped-Up Pencil Life Extender:This is Finn’s trash hack. Follow steps above, but use a little masking tape to connect the two butt ends of the pencils. Or, better yet, use some salvaged stickers in place of the tape to make the now-long pencil look cool.
A Greener Pencil? Pencils are now being made of denim and even old currency. These alternatives to wood are the way of the future and we love our denim pencils, they’re really sturdy.
Artists Even Save Pencil Stubs: If you want to be inspired, click here to see artist, Dalton Ghetti’s, amazing mini alphabet art, all carved from, yep, you guessed it, pencil stubs.
The Printer Ate My Pencil. Stubby Pencils Are A Future Resource: Are you missing your favorite pencil stub? Turns out those little buggers now have renewed value! Don’t throw them away, save ’em for your printer. Designer, Hoyoung Lee, has created a revolutionary “Pencil Printer” that eats your pencil stubs, discards the wood shavings (put ’em in your compost) and uses the graphite as ink powder to print out your documents! You can even reuse your pencil’s eraser to erase any typos you made, or the entire document, if you need to, so you can reuse the paper again and again! Imagine a world with printers using pencils as their ‘ink’ and you’ll never discard a stubby pencil again.

Call it a Pencil Fetish. But in the Future You’ll Wish you Saved ’em.

If you have great pencil Karma, too, and want to donate yours to the Magic Yeti Libraries, send us a note and we’ll email you our address. The kids love getting pencils from all over the country to take up to the high Himalaya. And the more used the better, because they have a story to tell, but new ones are also very very welcome.
Looking for some more pencil reuse info? Please visit our Trash Backwards app where you can type in any item in your home or office and find a way to divert it from the landfill.
Click Through for Pencil Reuses at Trash Backwards

Click Through for Pencil Reuses at Trash Backwards

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Categories: Repurpose and Reuse, Trash Philanthropy, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff


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5 Comments on “Pencils”

  1. Linda Whitehead
    May 30, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    WE HAVE PENCIL KARMA! Liesl, where can we drop off our collection?

    • Rebecca Rockefeller
      May 30, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      Hi Linda – I’ll have Liesl get back to you as soon as she’s back from Nepal!

  2. mycatlikestuna
    July 20, 2017 at 5:05 pm #

    I would love to collect pencils from my university and send them to you. Are you still taking donations?


  1. Zero Waste Household Guide: Office Solutions « Trash Backwards - June 21, 2012

    […] the life of your pencils: Our ode to pencils comes complete with two simple Trash Hacks that will keep your pencil stubs writing for as long as […]

  2. Zero Waste Household Guide: Office Solutions « Trash Backwards - June 21, 2012

    […] the life of your pencils: Our ode to pencils comes complete with two simple Trash Hacks that will keep your pencil stubs writing for as long as […]

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