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Can Pencils Be Recycled? And What You Can Do With Them

From jotting down notes to drawing and shading, pencils are versatile tool that has been a staple in our lives for centuries. But have you ever wondered what happens to all the used pencils once they’ve served their purpose? Can they be recycled? 

In this article, we’ll explore the question, “Can pencils be recycled?” and uncover the facts and myths surrounding this topic. Let’s get started!

Can Pencils Be Recycled?

Yes, pencils can be recycled! However, recycling pencils is not as straightforward as recycling other materials such as paper or plastic. The different parts of a pencil all require different recycling processes, so you’ll need to break down the pencils into their components to recycle them properly. Let’s learn more about pencil components and how to proceed with each one.

How to Recycle Pencils 

Pencils are made up of several components:

  • Wooden barrel
  • Graphite core
  • Metal ferrule (the metal piece that holds the eraser)

You can recycle the wooden barrel through traditional paper recycling methods. The wood will be shredded into tiny pieces and turned into pulp to create new paper products. But keep in mind that not all pencils are made from recyclable wood.

The graphite pencil core is a combination of graphite and clay. You can recycle that by breaking the pencils into small pieces and mixing them with water. The graphite will settle to the bottom of the container, while the wood and other impurities will float to the top. Then, the graphite can be dried and reused for new pencils.

You can also recycle the metal ferrule. It’s usually made from aluminum or brass, both of which are recyclable materials. As part of the recycling process, the ferrule will be melted and used for new metal products.

But before you jump into the adventure of recycling used pencils, consider donating them. Organizations like schools, charities, and art supply stores collect used pencils and donate them to people in need or repurpose them for art projects. It’s much better to reuse than to recycle materials as that involves fewer resources and causes less pollution.

Can You Recycle Mechanical Pencils?

The answer to whether or not you can recycle mechanical pencils is not straightforward. It all depends on the type of mechanical pencil you have. There are two types: disposable and refillable.

You can use disposable mechanical pencils until the lead runs out and then throw them away. You cannot recycle them. You should discard the entire pencil, including the plastic body and metal tip, in the regular trash.

On the other hand, you can recycle refillable mechanical pencils. Of course, you have to first separate the different pencil components. You can recycle the plastic body and the metal tip, but you should throw away the lead.

Keep in mind that not all recycling centers accept mechanical pencils. Some only accept specific types of plastic and metal, and mechanical pencil components may not be among them. If you’re unsure about the recycling policies in your area, contact your local recycling center for more information.

line of old used pencils

What to Do With Old Pencils

Pencils are an essential tool that some people use daily for writing, drawing, and sketching. But over time they can become worn down and unusable. So, what can you do with old pencils? 

Here are several options for disposing of used pencils and repurposing them in creative ways:

  • Donate: You can donate your old pencils to schools, community centers, or art programs. Many organizations welcome donations of writing and drawing supplies, including pencils. You can also reach out to local shelters, nursing homes, or other organizations that may have a need for writing supplies.
  • Repurpose: There are many fun things to do with pencils if you want to repurpose them. For example, you can glue together several pencils to create a unique pen or pencil holder. Also, you can use them as a garden stake or a small dowel for woodworking projects. Another fun idea is to create a pencil wreath by gluing pencils in a circular shape and adding decorations like ribbon or flowers.
  • Compost: If you have wooden pencils, you can compost them. The wood inside them is biodegradable. However, if your pencils have a glossy or painted finish, they may not be suitable for composting.
  • Upcycle: Upcycling is the process of transforming an old item into something new and useful. There are many creative ways to upcycle used pencils, such as creating a picture frame or a lampshade. Also, you can make jewelry or keychains.
  • Use the pencil shavings: If you find the whole business of pencil recycling somewhat cumbersome, you can at least find some practical and creative uses for the pencil shavings. For instance, you can use them as kindling, plant fertilizer, or art projects.

Recycling, donating, repurposing, composting, and upcycling are all excellent options for giving old pencils a new life. By practicing proper disposal methods, we can all do our part to reduce waste and promote sustainability.

Sustainable Pencil Alternatives

Let’s face it — traditional pencils aren’t always the most sustainable option. Their production and disposal can contribute to environmental issues such as deforestation, pollution, and waste. Fortunately, there are many sustainable pencil alternatives that are both eco-friendly and functional:

  • Recycled Newspaper Pencils: These pencils are made from recycled paper, without any wood materials. Plus, they’re compostable and biodegradable pencils.
  • Plantable Pencils: These are a unique and sustainable alternative that allows you to grow plants from your used pencils. They’re made from recycled paper or wood and are filled with seeds. Once the pencil is too short to use, you can plant it in soil, and the seeds will grow into plants. How awesome is that!
  • Bamboo Pencils: Bamboo pencils are another sustainable option. Bamboo grows quickly and doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers, making it an eco-friendly choice. These pencils are also biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable pencils.

To sum up, there are many sustainable pencil alternatives that can help reduce waste. Recycled newspaper pencils, plantable pencils, and bamboo pencils are just a few examples. By choosing sustainable alternatives, we can all do our part to protect the environment.

Final Thoughts

The good news is that pencils can indeed be recycled. Whether you choose to donate used pencils, recycle them, repurpose them, compost them, or upcycle them, you’re taking a step towards reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

By incorporating eco-friendly habits into our daily lives, such as disposing of old pencils properly, we can make a significant impact on the environment. So, the next time you find yourself with an old pencil, consider the options for its proper disposal and make an eco-friendly choice.


What bin do pencils go in?

When recycling pencils, it’s important to consider the materials they’re made of. Wooden pencils can go into the regular trash bin, but you should aim to recycle mechanical pencils as they often contain plastic and metal. For sustainability, consider upcycling or donate used pencils instead of throwing them away.

Can you compost pencils?

Yes, pencils are recyclable and you can compost them if they’re made from natural materials such as wood, paper, or recycled paper. However, you shouldn’t compost mechanical pencils that contain plastic. Composting pencils is a sustainable way to dispose of them and give back to the earth.

What can you make with old pencils?

You can turn old pencils into unique pieces of art, jewelry, or home decor. Also, you can use them as plant markers in your garden or donate them to schools or art programs. The possibilities are endless!

Is there plastic in pencils?

Traditional wooden pencils don’t contain plastic. However, some mechanical pencils have plastic components. Opting for plastic-free pencils can help reduce your environmental impact and promote sustainability.

How many pencils are made each year in the United States?

Over 14 billion pencils are made annually in the US. The biggest brands that produce pencils include Dixon Ticonderoga, Faber-Castell, Bic, Blackwing, and Crayola.

How many trees are used for pencils?

It’s estimated that around 82,000 trees are cut down annually to produce approximately 2 billion traditional wooden pencils. The process involves making around 170,000 pencils from one tree, contributing to the negative impact on the world’s forests.

Are pencils or pens better for the environment?

When it comes to environmental impact, pencils are generally more eco-friendly than pens. They’re made from renewable materials like wood, so you can compost them at the end of their lifespan. Meanwhile, pens often contain plastic and other non-biodegradable materials, making them more difficult to dispose of sustainably.

Are pencils safe for the environment?

Generally, pencils are safe for the environment, especially those made from sustainably sourced materials like FSC-certified wood or recycled paper. However, some pencils may contain harmful chemicals in their ink or erasers. Choose environmentally friendly and non-toxic pencils and dispose of them properly to minimize their impact on the environment.

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