Q. I know that lead is terrible for the environment and also a serious health threat, so I hesitate to use pencils. But plastic pens seem like a bad idea, too. What can I stock up on before heading back to college?
A. Actually, pencils have always been made with non-toxic graphite, not lead. When a huge deposit of graphite was discovered in the 1500’s, it was mistakenly thought to be a form of lead, and the name stuck, at least for colloquial use. So if you can get past those nightmarish, bubble-filling SAT memories, feel free to return to the good old no. 2 pencil. Opt for ones made from reclaimed or FSC-certified wood, or even from compressed recycled newspapers. As with any type of recycled product, always look for the highest “post-consumer recycled content” percentage available — upwards of 50 percent is a good goal. Recycled and refillable pens abound as well, and there are even non-toxic highlighters on the market. Always go for the least smelly option you can find — strongly scented ink usually means your pen or marker is emitting unhealthy VOCs, or volatile organic compounds.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.