Are Pencils Biodegradable?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: May 7, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Over 14 billion pencils get manufactured worldwide every year. They’re enough to surround the globe 62 times, and it’s not shocking. 

Children need pencils to write down their first words and adults use them for writing and drawing as well.

They are essential and will be around for a long time. With the world matching towards sustainability the question of “are pencils biodegradable?” will be detabatable.

Most pencils consist of biodegradable wooden materials, except for the parts made of plastic casings.

This article will help you understand whether or not pencils are biodegradable.

What Are Pencils Made Of?

Pencils often contain various materials, most of them derived from natural sources. The pencil casing comes from cedar, a durable softwood that doesn’t crack or warp easily.

Some pencils have wooden parts painted with toxic-free paint to protect the wood. Sometimes, the paint helps decorate it. 

The pencil’s inside part is what we use to write and consists of graphite.

Graphite refers to a dark gray mineral derived from carbon obtained by mining. 

However, it’s usually mixed with clay and other chemicals to make it incredibly durable.

The tiny metal at the pencil’s end that holds the eraser is a ferrule. 

It comprises aluminum because aluminum is lightweight, abundant, and easy to shape.

Lastly, the eraser comprises rubber sourced from rubber trees grown in tropical regions.

In some cases, the rubber gets mixed with pumice, a naturally-occurring mineral.

Mechanical pencils have graphite inside them and rubber erasers. 

However, the graphite is enclosed in plastic rather than in wood.

Although colored pencils are pretty similar to wooden pencils, they mainly have colored clay rather than graphite. But they don’t have easers.

Are Pencils Biodegradable?

The answer is usually yes or no. Pencils have different parts made of different materials. 

This means that some parts are biodegradable while others are not.

For instance, the wood in most pencils is often biodegradable because it comes from natural wood. 

But since the wood usually undergoes heavy processing, it will biodegrade slowly.

In addition, pencils with painted wood will take longer to decay as the paint helps enhance the wood’s durability. 

Plus, the erasers will only biodegrade if they come from natural rubber.

Cedarwood is insect resistant, meaning that biological factors will have no impact on the biodegradation of pencils.

 They will take very long to decay.

As for the graphite and ferrules, they are non-biodegradable. However, graphite can provide iron when composed. 

Even if you’re dealing with mechanical pencils that lack biodegradable parts, you can compost them to improve your compost quality.

In short, wooden pencils are more biodegradable than mechanical pencils, mainly consisting of plastic that can’t biodegrade. 

Even if the plastic were biodegradable, these pencils would take thousands of years to decay fully.

Thankfully, you can find biodegradable pencils on the market today. Some consist of recycled paper and edible food colors.

Others come from recycled flowers, coffee, and tea. And in fact, there are even pencils made of seed. 

Once biodegradable pencils become too short, you can throw them in the compost, and they’ll biodegrade.

Are Pencil Shavings Biodegradable?

Yes. Pencil shavings are biodegradable because the cedar wood used to make them is a natural resource. 

However, they decay quite slowly as the cedar wood is resistant to action by biological factors. 

In addition, cedarwood undergoes heavy processing to make it more durable, affecting the rate of biodegradation.

The best way to handle pencil shavings is to use them to light the fire or throw them in your garden. 

They can help deter insects that would damage your plants.

Is A Pencil Case Biodegradable?

A pencil case can only be biodegradable if it contains materials from natural resources such as cork

Cork is a common eco-friendly fabric used to make pencil cases because it is often soft, durable, and flexible. 

Therefore, pencil cases made from cork are sustainable and biodegradable.

On the other hand, pencil cases made of plastic or other synthetic materials are non-biodegradable. 

Even if they were to biodegrade, it would take hundreds of years.

Is Pencil Lead Biodegradable?

Lead is the pencil part used to draw or write. It comes from graphite, a natural crystalline carbon mineral similar to diamond. 

The mineral is present in igneous and metamorphic rocks, which are not biodegradable. 

But it can be an excellent addition to your garden as plants can absorb and use the carbon in it.

Can You Compost Pencils?

No. Pencils are not readily compostable because they take longer to decay. However, you can add pencil shavings from wooden pencils to compost. That’s because they are smaller and mainly consist of wood.

In addition, pencil shavings may not necessarily serve as a natural fertilizer like other compostable materials. 

But using them near your plants could help deter insects and enable the soil to retain more moisture as they get derived from cedarwood.

Besides gardening, pencil shavings can serve as fuel or a resource for art projects.

Which One Is More Eco-Friendly: Mechanical Or Wooden Pencils?

Wooden pencils are more eco-friendly than mechanical pencils as most of their materials come from renewable sources.

Mechanical pencils primarily contain plastic materials created through mining and heavy crude oil processing. 

Considering that the graphite in them is also artificial, then all the materials making up mechanical pencils originate from crude oil (a non-renewable resource) in one way or another.

One environmental benefit of mechanical pencils is that they are reusable by replacing the graphite in them. But most facilities don’t do that, and instead, they throw the whole pencil and buy a new one.

As for wooden pencils, they are usable in their entirety, reducing the number of pencils that get thrown away. This means that you can continue sharpening and reusing the pencil until you can’t anymore.


Are pencils biodegradable? The answer depends on the type of pencil. Most parts of a wooden pencil, such as the wooden and erasers, are biodegradable as they come from natural resources.

However, the cedar wood used to make them is resistant to insects, meaning biological factors won’t effectively decompose them. 

The wood also undergoes heavy processing to make it more durable, meaning that it will decompose much slower.

As for the ferrules, they are metallic, making them non-biodegradable. With mechanical pencils, they are entirely non-biodegradable as they contain plastic materials.

But you can find pencils that have entirely natural materials, making them biodegradable.

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