Design: The Millennium Collection No 11: The Remarkable Recycled Pencil

SOMEONE ONCE told me that an obsession with stationery and office materials was a sign of incipient madness. Nonetheless, there are fewer greater pleasures to be had than in contemplating such humble and yet invaluable things as drawings pins, paperclips, and pencils. They are all little treasures, but often as not lost treasures. The number of pencils I lose every month could probably, like the pieces of the True Cross, build a Spanish galleon.

How sensible, then, of somebody to think up the recycled pencil, to save our friends the forests from futile slaughter. The recycled pencil, its wood made from recycled Styro-foam vending cups, 30 per cent of its lead from recycled computer cases and costing half the price of a conventional pencil, is, from an economic, environmental and moral point of view, clearly a Very Good Idea. I spend most of every working day holding pencils, and tend to feel rather fetishistic about them. So while the recycled pencil may be a Very Good Idea, is it a good pencil?

I suppose it depends on what you want to do with it. It's not much good for chewing for a start: the compacted vending-cup stuff fails to give with the same satisfying crunch as a wooden pencil, and chewing pencils is an essential part of the cartoonist's creative process.

Likewise, it's heavier than ordinary pencils, annoyingly so when cradled between thumb and middle finger during the long hours spent, essentially and creatively, staring out of the window. It does sharpen quite nicely, which is important.

Sharpening pencils is a deeply sensuous experience, and the compacted Styrofoam curls out over the sharpener's blade in an unbroken helix. However, the lead will not sharpen to a point, and all those plastic computer cases make it splinter easily and feel irritatingly waxy when you pass it over paper.

Not a very good pencil for drawing with, then, but perfectly adequate for, say, cleaning out your ears or doing sums on the back of an envelope to work out how many pencils you could get for the price of one Millennium Dome. I make it 8,666,666,000 or so, which would make for an impressive fleet of galleons.

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