Since I recently reviewed a wooden pencil, it seemed fitting to research a mechanical pencil this week. Personally, I was always under the impression that mechanical pencils are less environmentally friendly, so I wanted to see whether that's really the case or if it's just a good old sustainability myth. The Pilot Rexgrip mechanical pencil is advertised as an eco-friendly, refillable pencil that has a modern design and ergonomic grip for a perfect hold. I ended up giving the pencil 1.5 out of 3 planets because I think the company could be more transparent about their manufacturing process and sourcing of materials. Even if the pencil is refillable and made out of recycled plastic, it's still important for the company to state where these materials come from and whether the leads are sustainable as well. It’s not just the body of the pencil that matters.
This mechanical pencil is part of the ‘Begreen’ range, which is an initiative by Pilot (introduced in 2006) to reduce their use of plastic and overall impact on the environment. Being part of this branch means that a product is made out of at least 70% recycled plastic that is either sourced from post-consumer waste or post-industrial waste. The product’s packaging is also made with 100% recycled cardboard that is FSC-certified. In this case, the pencil is made out of 71.9% recycled plastic (excluding consumables), which helps preserve natural resources such as oil. The company states that the extraction of raw materials to produce the plastic for a pencil represents 77.8% of its carbon footprint, whereas using recycled plastic reduces the CO2 impact by 19-57% depending on the ‘writing instrument concerned.’ Personally, I think it’s a bit fishy that Pilot doesn’t explicitly say how much each specific product reduces and instead provides a range with a difference of 38%. This just hides which products are more sustainable and doesn’t give the consumer the opportunity to buy the most environmentally friendly product in the collection. Additionally, the description of the pencil states that it has a rubber grip to ensure better hold, but there are no details as to where this rubber is sourced from. Not loving the lack of transparency. Lastly, it’s not just the actual pencil body that needs to be reviewed, but also the leads, since the pencil’s 'refillable attribute' is advertised as ‘more economical and respectful of the environment.’ However, when looking at the leads, I couldn’t find any information about where the graphite and clay comes from. I think it’s pretty concerning considering that graphite mining can be extremely damaging to the environment and harmful to nearby communities. Also, 80% of natural graphite reserves are in Brazil, China and Turkey, which means the resources have to be transported halfway across the world. This doesn’t sound very sustainable if you ask me.
While I think it’s better to use recycled rather than new plastic, there are many discussions about the actual benefits of using recycled plastic. Some people argue that it still requires too much energy to melt down, whereas others see it as a way to prevent plastic from ending up in landfills or oceans. Since the company uses 100% renewable energy for manufacture, the energy argument doesn’t really hold its ground here and rather shows the company’s commitment to becoming more sustainable. However, it doesn’t entirely convince me of their dedication since I couldn’t find any information about how the pencil and its leads are produced. The only thing I was able to see on the website is where most mechanical pencils and leads are manufactured, which is in the Hiratsuka and Isesaki factories in Japan. In order for Pilot to be able to consider itself a transparent company, much more information needs to be openly available. In terms of the pencil’s design, I think it’s great that it can be re-used rather thrown out after it’s all used up. By refilling it at least 3 times instead of buying 3 new pencils, the consumer offsets emissions themselves and reduces the pencil’s environmental impact by 95%. In a perfect world where no one loses their pencils or throws it away after it breaks, this would definitely be a great solution, but I feel like that just isn’t the case. To be honest, I’ve lost many pencils in school before I could even begin to think about refilling them. While I understand that consumers have to make an effort in being more sustainable (like not throwing away their pencils), it just feels like the responsibility to be sustainable is placed on us rather than the company.
Pilot is a European company with its world headquarters located in Japan. It received two environmental certifications and claims that these are official proof of the company’s dedication to working in harmony with the planet’s ecology and ecosystems. For instance, the production system is based on the guidelines of the ISO14001 standard in Japan and Europe. This involves measuring the company’s environmental impact, their success, and determining future goals for Pilot to focus on. This certification is more related to the production process, which makes me hopeful that the company actually does have sustainable manufacturing methods. However, what I don’t understand is why they aren’t open about the production process if it’s really as good as this certification suggests. The second certification is the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), of which Pilot was one of the few companies in Europe to receive registration. Again, I think this only speaks positively for the company, which is why I’m confused about their lack of transparency in terms of where the graphite, rubber and plastic are sourced from. When it comes to social justice, the only thing I could find is that ‘100% of employees are committed to Pilot’s environmental approach.’ While I think it’s great that employees are part of making the company more environmentally-friendly, it would be good to see some kind of Code of Conduct that explains their social justice stance. It’s easy for companies to forget about this, but social justice is definitely just as important as the environment when it comes to sustainability.