`Eco' Pencils: a Tree-Sparing Option

FABER Castell Corporation, which makes more than one-third of the 2.5 billion pencils sold in the United States each year, has introduced a pencil made of recycled material.

Gone is the traditional wood casing. Instead the pencil shaft will be made from reprocessed newspapers and cardboard boxes.

The first "American EcoWriter" pencils are now being shipped from Eberhard Faber's Lewisburg, Tenn., plant. They will be widely available by August, back-to-school time, at a cost not too much higher than traditional pencils.

"It's taken us two years to develop" the substitute for a traditional wood casing, says Brent Gulick, Faber Castell's product manager for pencils.

The challenge was to develop a material that could be sharpened as easily as a wood pencil and that was not prone to snap.

Faber developed the material with Lydall Inc., the company that reprocesses the paper into slats that are used by Faber in manufacturing.

The pencilmaking process is similar whether wood or the recycled material is used. Each slat makes nine pencils. Faber carves nine grooves into the slats, inserts the graphite or "lead," and then bonds another slat on top.

While the shaft will be standard yellow, which Mr. Gulick notes is the most popular pencil color, the label and eraser will be environment-green.

Gulick says a package of eight American EcoWriter pencils will sell for under $2, and probably between 79 and 99 cents in August, when discounts are common. This would be about the same cost as a pack of 10 wood-case pencils, he adds.

Faber expects the new pencils to account for 5 to 15 percent of its pencil sales volume in the coming year.

The product comes on the heels of "The American Natural," a pencil introduced a year ago to highlight Faber's use of "sustained yield" cedar supplies. No more wood is harvested than is replaced by new planting.

"We looked to see if we could take that one step further" with the American EcoWriter, Gulick says.

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