Company Erasing Pencils Of Wood

April 11, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

The next pencil your child brings home from school could be made from someone else's garbage.

As Baltimore-area school systems encourage their students to protect the environment, school officials are looking to teach by example -- by replacing the traditional No. 2 wooden pencil with two new brands made from recycled school-lunch trays and denim blue jeans.

"These pencils are really cool," B. J. Radhe, 12, a seventh-grader at Howard County's Clarksville Middle School, said upon recently encountering the new pencils for the first time. "You can bend them, which is kind of neat, and they sharpen pretty well, too."

Although samples of the Eagle Recycled and Eagle Jeans pencils have just begun to trickle into Baltimore's suburban schools, they already have captured the hearts of some students, teachers and -- of most importance to their Tennessee manufacturer, Empire Berol USA -- school system purchasing agents.

"For everything I buy, I look for recycled products," said Jean Ramsey, who purchases more than 75,000 pencils a year for Howard schools. "I'm happy that these pencils came in at the same price as regular pencils, so I can order them. . . . This is so exciting."

At first glance, both the Eagle Jeans and the Eagle Recycled models appear to be simply painted, more flexible versions of the regular wooden pencil.

But the "stonewashed" blue barrel of the Eagle Jeans pencil is composed of denim scraps left over from jeans factories, not the trees -- called incense cedars and found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada -- of which all wooden pencils in this country are made. The jeans pencil even frays at its edges upon sharpening.

The Eagle Recycled pencil is made almost entirely of recycled materials, including plastic from disposable school-lunch trays in its barrel and aluminum cans in its metal eraser band.

"It's a neat idea. With all of the recycling we do, we sometimes forget that it has to be made into something," said Joyce Hinkle, the purchasing supervisor in Carroll County schools.

Carroll already has ordered its 72,000 wooden pencils for next year, but Ms. Hinkle said the recycled Eagle pencils likely will become eligible for purchase in 1996 -- assuming they meet the approval of users.

"They seem a little more difficult to initially sharpen, and we'll want to check how frequently the points break," Ms. Hinkle said.

Anne Arundel County school officials also are waiting to hear students' opinions before they decide on their order for 120,000 pencils for next fall, said senior buyer Bill Hubbard.

Another important factor may be the new pencils' cost. The lunch-tray pencil costs about the same as its wooden counterpart, but the Eagle Jeans model is more expensive.

With school systems buying tens of thousands of pencils a year, even a penny can be significant. "I think what I will do is suggest the jeans pencils to school stores as something to sell to %J students. We have to go with the product that's the best price," Ms. Ramsey said.

If the reaction at Clarksville Middle in Howard is indicative, then the pencils seem sure to be a hit. In teacher Annette Kuperman's seventh-grade class last week, students swarmed around her as she handed out samples of the Eagle Recycled pencil.

"I feel good using this pencil because I know I'm not cutting down any trees for it," said Ashley Saks, 12, of Columbia. "It seems like a good way to use all of those lunch trays that we're LTC recycling every day."

But while the new pencils are advertised as free of "rain forest wood," so are all other American-made pencils. This is because they are made of incense cedar trees grown in "sustained yield" forests, where harvested trees are replaced by new seedlings.

"As far as these recycled pencils go, I'm sure there are some environmental benefits, but we believe that nothing can match an incense cedar pencil in performance," said Jean Wilhoit, executive director of the Incense Cedar Institute in Stockton, Calif.

Both types of recycled pencils are expected to be available in stores by fall. A 10-pack of the lunch tray model likely will cost about 80 cents retail, and six jeans pencils will be about $1.30, said John Powers, the assistant brand manager at Empire Berol in Brentwood, Tenn.

After jeans pencils, what's next? Having seen the new pencils, at least one school official and mother is sure she knows. "Just wait until the designer jean companies get in on this," said the Carroll school system's Ms. Hinkle, the mother of two middle-schoolers. "We'll have Guess Jean pencils, and all the kids will have to have them. Of course, I'm sure they would be priced accordingly."

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