This time: a pencil made from recycled money. My colleague Dr. Mitchell Larson saw this pencil while visiting another university and brought one back.
A quick search on the Internet shows that many British suppliers of promotional pencils stock this green, recycled pencil. I am not sure whether it’s made from recycled Pound notes (less likely) or whether the colour is supposed to indicate that it is made from recycled Dollar bills (more likely). This is probably the same pencil as the one seen on Pencil Revolution in 2006. In any case, the pencil doesn’t feel as if it’s made from pure, recycled cotton paper. It’s much too hard and dense for that. I’d speculate that it’s made from plastic banknotes if I wouldn’t think it’s made from Dollar bills. Another explanation for the plasticy consistency, one which seems more likely, might be that the consistency of the recycled notes is just not right to be made into a pencil – so the recycled material might have had to be mixed with another material. Maybe there’s an even more exciting explanation: maybe the recycled notes had to be mixed with another material to make it impossible to use this pencil to forge money. Lots of speculation, but in the end it doesn’t matter why: this pencil is much more similar to a Staedtler Wopex or to a BIC ecolutions evolution than to a pencil made from rolled paper, like the ones shown in the battle of the eco pencils.
The pencil itself is round. I mention this because there is an older, hexagonal version – the one made from $7.33 of recycled Dollars.
The lead behaves and feels similar to the BIC ecolutions evolution, it’s just a bit less waxy. It’s definitely worse than a Staedtler Wopex, it’s not as dark and more plasticy, but much better than the catastrophic pencils made from recycled CD cases, which are widely used as promotional pencils. I’m not even looking for the CD case pencils on purpose, but have already come across four different ones. Two of them were left by students in different rooms in our university. I can’t blame them for not wanting to write with these pencils.
In a good sharpener, in this case the DUX 9207-N, sharpening the recycled money pencil is effortless. Despite being made from a material that seems quite a bit harder than wood the sharpener didn’t struggle at all. When sharpening the recycled money pencil in a ‘not so good’ sharpener or one where use has resulted in a blunt blade sharpening needs more effort than your average wood cased pencil.
Since we’re just talking about the sharpener anyway, the DUX 9207-N is a very nice sharpener, made from black Bakelite. As far as I know this sharpener has been first produced in the 1940s. You can sometimes see people on eBay trying to sell new versions of this sharpener as antiques. The DUX sharpens with an angle of ~20°. Please take the time to click on the picture of the sharpener to see the delicate, sophisticated pattern on the lid of the sharpener in higher resolution.
Some pencils made from recycled materials are truly awful. This pencil isn’t one of them. The fact that it’s made from recycled money makes it an interesting novelty. The lead is usable, even though it’S not as good as the best pencils made from recycled materials.
I’d like to thank Lexikaliker for getting me the Dux 9207-N sharpener. I couldn’t find it in any local shops.
I’d like to thank Dr. Mitchell Larson for the recycled money pencil.
Today: another pencil from France. This time it’s an eco pencil, the BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK. It’s a really good looking eco pencil with gold lettering on a dark grey, slightly metallic looking body. I paid £1.49 (~$2.35; €1.80) for a set with four pencils from a local supermarket.
When I first saw the packaging I was sceptical – it looks good, but does it write well? Most eco pencils don’t write very well, with the Wopex and paper-rolled pencil being the only exceptions I find usable.
“Relatives” of this pencil have been reviewed at pencil talk and Lexikaliker. Unsurprisingly the BIC ecolutions evolutionBLACK seems to be very similar to these pencils. The box indicates that it’s made form 55% recycled material and looking closer this seems to be an extruded pencil with an aerated casing. The pencils seem to have more air bubbles in the centre of the body, near the lead.
The sharpener used
I thought an eco pencils deserved a suitable sharpener, so I tried out the Dux Bio, a sharpener being advertised as 100% compostable and made from 80% renewable resources – even though I think it might be biodegradable rather than compostable, i.e. it the sharpener probably doesn’t turn into humus .
A quick word about the Dux Bio, also known as the DX5907. It’s a great sharpener that produces an even point with an angle of ~24°, even on difficult to sharpen pencils. I actually tried to get my hands on one for a while, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. In the end (about 18 months ago) Dux was kind enough to send me one.
Using this pencil
Sharpening this pencil is fairly easy for a pencil with a body made from recycled material other than paper. The graphite core looks similar to that of a traditional pencil, but when looking at a sharpened point the graphite seems to be more reflective.
The BIC ecolutions evolutionBLACK produced a fairly light line – so light that it is tempting to press harder, especially if the point has been used for a while and the line is wider. Unlike a more traditional pencil pressing harder doesn’t however result in a darker line – or should I say the causal relation between pressing harder and producing a darker line is not as obvious as it is with a normal pencil.
Overall it’s not bad for a recycled pencil. It’s certainly much better than the recycled pencils made by Remarkable, but even though it’s easy to sharpen it doesn’t produce a line as good as the Wopex.
I found another one of the previously mentioned recycled pencils. This time in the souvenir shop of Martin Mere, a wetland nature reserve. The price was the same as what I paid at the Lancashire Science Festival: 50p (~ 78¢; 63c). Suffice to say that this one isn’t any better than the ones previously shown in this blog. As Kevin wrote in a comment, these pencils are not only not eco, but even anti-eco as they are pretty unusable when it comes to writing with them. A scorched piece of wood writes better than this pencil… This didn’t stop this pencil and the company behind it receiving several awards for it. Oh, well, at least their other, newer products look exciting, like their Saponite pencil holder.
I also bought another recycled item I have previously seen in different shops for quite a while now This pencil case must have been available in Sainsbury’s, maybe also in other supermarkets, for at least five years now.: a pencil case made from recycled car tyres. That’s definitely a better use for those old tyres than the horrible pencil made from recycled car tyres shown in another blog post. This pencil case is flexible, only smells a little bit like tyres and is nice to hold, even though it feels a bit wet and oily. I hope the material doesn’t get porous over time, but we’ll see. The case was £4.99 (~ $7.76; €6.33). You can get these slightly cheaper online – in some places these cases cost £4 each or less.
Over the last three days the first Lancashire Science Festival took place on the premises of my employer. There were some really exciting shows – and there were souvenirs.
I couldn’t resist and bought two pencils made from recycled CD cases, for 50p each (~ 78¢; 62c). When I saw them I knew they were the same kind of pencils as the red pencil, made from recycled CD cases, discussed in the Battle of the eco pencils, but I was hoping these pencils had improved over the last two years.
This hope was unfortunately misplaced. The pencil is as bad as the red one I looked at two years ago. The lead is not very dark and writing with this pencils feels rubbery, but also a bit scratchy at the same time. After my bad experience last time I didn’t use my Deli pencil sharpener 0635 for this pencil. Instead I used the Dux 9207-N sharpener, which is so sharp that it can easily cope with the hard plastic that makes up the casing, but that only makes me happy about the good sharpener and doesn’t help at all with this horrible pencil. I only know one pencil that is worse: the Ticonderoga Renew HB.
A fantastic science festival, but horrible souvenir pencils.
Price: June 2012
Exchange rates: July 2012
I would like to thank Lexikaliker for the fantastic DUX 9207-N sharpener that has been used to sharpen the pencil for the photo.
Before I start talking about the eco pencils I want to emphasise that I call them eco pencils because they are marketed in this or in a similar way. Why are they marketed like this? Because they do not use wood, but alternative materials. While I do believe that they could be more ecologically friendly than wooden pencils I have no proof and in the same way that for example biofuel or hybrid cars bring new problems, there might be hidden problem I do not know of when it comes to the production of the eco pencils.
When it comes to wooden pencils there are also big differences, e.g. between pencils using wood from certified e.g. FSC, PEFC, well-managed forests and pencils with wood from unknown and more dubious sources. It certainly would not be a problem to produce pencils without wood that are actually less environmentally friendly than traditional wooden pencils. In absence of any incriminating evidence I will however give the six eco pencils tested in this article the benefits of the doubt and will refer to them as eco pencils, as intended by their manufacturers.
First I will have a closer look at the extruded pencils.
Let’s start with the red pencil, made from recycled CD cases. I found this pencil a few weeks ago, somebody must have lost it …or forgotten it …or more likely: did not want to use it any more because it is so horrible (more on this later). When I first found it I was quite excited. The pencil point was broken off, so I could not use it and had to sharpened it in my Deli pencil sharpener 0635, which I soon regretted. You had to use considerably more force compared to sharpening a wooden pencil in the Deli and to be honest, the Deli has not been the same since. The red plastic is much harder than wood and must have somehow blunted the burr cylinder. The Deli 0635 still works, but does not operate as smoothly as in the past. Writing with this pencil is not very nice. The line is not particularly black and the pencil manages to give you a waxy and scratchy feeling the same time. The writing on the pencil reads “Pencil made from recycled CD cases”. I wish it stayed a CD case.
On to the next pencil. The Ticonderoga Renew, made from recycled tyres. I was quite excited when I received my pack of ten.This excitement started to disappear when I tried to sharpen these pencils. They are even harder to sharpen than the red CD case pencil. Rotating the pencil in any sharpener will make you fear for the sharpener. I fear the pencil will manage to blunt every blade it touches. Once I started using the pencil any last bit of enthusiasm I had left for this pencil was gone completely. It was scratchy and the line is certainly not dark at all. Sometimes it seems to perform better, so I suspect that the lead is of different quality in different parts …or maybe the difference in performance has to do with the writing angle or the degree of sharpening. Sometimes writing with this pencil is nearly acceptable, but only nearly. Overall it is even worse than the CD case pencil. BTW, there is a warning, printed on the box “Not for use with electric sharpeners”.
Last in the category of extruded pencils is the Staedtler Wopex. According to Staedtler the fibre material is made from 70% wood. The pencil is much easier to sharpen then the previous two pencils, but it is still not anywhere near a wooden pencil. As the lead is extruded, not made the traditional way, writing with it is more similar to writing with the previous two pencils than it is to writing with a pencil that has a traditional lead. Luckily there is no scratchiness, instead the lead is quite waxy. The line of the Wopex is also much darker, more like a line from a traditional pencil. Having used the Wopex for a few weeks now I have to say that depending on the paper and writing surface used, writing with the Wopex can be a very pleasant experience. Its lines are a bit more difficult to erase than those of most traditional pencils and it is about twice as heavy as a traditional pencil, which is quite nice. Another nice feature is its nice, “grippy” surface.
Next I will have a look at the pencils that use rolled paper instead of wood.
Recently I had a closer look at the Eco Bridge pencils, so I will not go into too much detail again. It is a nice pencil, but one thing I noticed is that, compared to other paper pencils, the rolled paper is more likely to get ripped away during sharpening, presumably because of no, less or different glue applied to the paper before rolling.
Next is the O’Bon Newsprint pencil. Mine seems to be made from paper that might have been part of a financial newspaper from mainland China. The pencil is made in China, but the newspaper you can see on the packaging of the pencils seems to be from Malaysia, which is where O’Bon seems to have its origins (don’t quote me on this, I am only 99% sure). Malaysia seems to be the new El Dorado for stationery lovers. If you like pens from the higher end of the market you might have come across Pen Gallery, an online shop from Malaysia. Pelikan is kind of Malaysian too. Pelikan, and recently Herlitz, were bought by a Malaysian business man and stationery aficionado who, according to some newspaper articles I read, fulfilled his lifelong dream when he bought this stationery giant. A lot of Faber-Castell products are made in Malaysia, too …so now it turns out O’Bon is from Malaysia as well. I wonder whether this is more than a coincidence. On the other hand Staedtler closed its factory in Malaysia this year. OK, one last Malaysia pencil fact: The most common pencil grade in Malaysia is 2B. Getting other grades is even quite difficult. Back to the O’Bon pencils: they are actually very good. Even though they are 2B they hardly smudge and the line is nice and dark. Unlike the Eco Bridge pencils the O’Bon pencils can be sharpened and still look good, as the paper does not rip away.
Now to the last paper pencil. The Tesco paper pencil is quite similar to the O’Bon as it is also made from real newspaper, while the Eco Bridge seems to use paper specially made for the pencils, which reduces the eco-ness considerably. The Tesco pencil is also slightly slimmer than the other two paper pencils and much cheaper. The surface is smooth like the O’Bon’s surface while the Eco Bridge pencil has a rough paper surface. By far the biggest drawback of the Tesco pencil is that it smells horribly for several days after taking it out of the package. Something that makes me think that the glues being used cannot be too healthy. On the plus side the Tesco pencil is one of the cheapest pencils around, but my local Tesco stopped stocking them so I fear they might be difficult to come by in the future.
Unfortunately most of the pencils are only available in some markets. The Ticonderoga Renew box has a UK address printed on the reverse, but I have never seen this pencil in the UK. Staedtler has a worlwide distribution network, but the Wopex does not seem to be available in all markets.
The Staedtler Wopex is, without a shadow of a doubt, the winner of the extruded pencils tested here. There are of course also other extruded pencils, like the ones from BIC, but they were not included as I have never used them. Last time I used other extruded pencils they were horrible writers, similar to the CD case pencil and the Ticonderoga Renew, so I assume that there are not many nice extruded pencils available. One problem with the Wopex that I should point out is that the last millimetre of the point can break easily if you have over-sharpened it.
The winner of the rolled paper pencils is the O’Bon Newsprint. It can be sharpened without problems, the surface finish is really nice and it does not have the horrible smell the Tesco pencil has in th ebeginning.
One interesting point I should mention is that some of the eco pencils (Wopex & O’Bon) claim that they last longer than normal pencils. I have not looked into this yet and cannot comment on it. If you think you noticed that they last longer please let me know.
I would like to thank Kevin from O’Bon for sending me the Newsprint pencils free of charge. Even though I received them free of charge I tried to be objective and believe that this article was not influence by the fact that I received the O’Bon pencils without having to pay for them. You can find a review of O’Bon pencils at pencil talk.