Where did all the real pencils go?

Kaitlyn Stocum, sophomore at Leesville, completes Spanish homework with a mechanical pencil. Like many other high school students, Stocum has fully embraced the benefits of mechanical writing utensils. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Gore)

In every school across the country, standard lead #2 pencils have been around for years. Recently, mechanical pencils have become a major trend — especially among high schoolers.

“It seems like at least 90% of students at our school use mechanical, I rarely ever see a kid using a normal yellow pencil now,” said Joe Reter, Leesville junior.

Mechanical pencils come in several different colors as well, making the appeal of the object even stronger towards students. The writing utensils have the ability to keep students engaged in their work and create a sense of uniqueness as well. Differing colors, patterns, and markings on the exterior of the pencils make them uncommon but enticing to students.

Another reason why mechanical pencils are on the rise is their efficiency. Imagine you are taking a test in Spanish class and suddenly, the tip of your yellow lead pencil snaps. You then have to lose focus from your test, get up and walk across the room, and sharpen your pencil. As soon as you put the end of the pencil into the sharpener, the entire class is disrupted by the loud noise.

To avoid all this commotion, students simply opt to use mechanical pencils. When the lead snaps, all you have to do is push down the top piece that holds the eraser and the utensil will automatically dispense new graphite.

“It’s so much easier to just pick [a mechanical pencil] up and start clicking the top of it and writing. I think it’s really embarrassing to interrupt the entire class by the loud sharpener. I get annoyed when my pencil tip keeps breaking anyway, that’s really why I don’t use the normal ones,” said Haley Drennen, a junior at Leesville.

What students don’t realize is the unhealthy footprint that the production of mechanical pencils is leaving on the environment. Slate.com reports that, “manufacturing 10 grams of polystyrene—a rough estimate for the plastic you might find in a standard mechanical pencil—would require about 22 grams of oil, between the petroleum that makes up the plastic and the energy needed to manufacture it.” The process of creating and transporting the pencil uses oil as well.

The problem is that producing standard wood pencils uses about the same amount of oil, plus trees have to be cut down. Truly, both types of pencils take tolls on the environment, meaning that neither is a better choice in terms of “using a green thumb”.

Fortunately for the past few years, companies that create mechanical pencils out of recycled materials have been growing. Reusing old plastic keeps trash out of landfills and maintains the planet’s cleanliness.

As far as the increased popularity of mechanicals goes, students at Leesville mainly utilize them for the efficiency and looks. Although they aren’t beneficial to the ecosystems around the world, their fame is expanding rapidly amongst the Leesville community.

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