Rethinking waste: pencils

Creating an epoxy kitchen countertop from unwanted pencils

how to recycle pencils

Rethinking waste

What happens to old things when you don’t want them any more? It’s all too easy to drop them off at a charity shop or  put them in the recycling box and forget all about them. But what really happens to our waste?


We tried to think about this during the build, not just to save money and waste in general, but also to pose questions to our guests about what happens to the things they throw away. What do we do with the things that cannot be reused or repurposed. Where do the materials we use every day come from, where do they go when we are finished with them and is there a way we reuse them by  rethinking their purpose?


Reduce, reuse, recycle… it’s all good stuff, but we want to add a new R for RETHINK.

Stay at the cabin to see our Epoxy Pencil Kitchen countertop  in its , and much more! See the cabin in full here. 

It takes 82,000 trees to support the global demand for pencils

According to the Guardian, the pencil was once judged by Forbes magazine to be the fourth most important tool in human history… after the knife, the abacus and the compass.  14 billion are made per yearThat’s a phenomenal amount of product. 

But are they all in use? If you are anything like us, you have probably accrued hundreds over the years. Kid’s parties, pizza restaurants, corporate giveaways, pocket-money trips to Smiggle to buy something that smells like either tangerine or melon…. One pencil case has no doubt morphed into several, it’s become a box, it’s become a whole drawer.

So what happens to those pencils you no longer need or want?

pencil epoxy kitchen countertop

Recycling pencils

Pencils are made of wood with a graphite, or coloured core (which is made by combining wax and/or oil, water, bonding agents, and pigments). They sometimes have a metal ferrule with a rubber on the end, and typically they are painted on the outside.

All of those things are recyclable, but like many products, the fact they are combined is problematic. They need to be stripped down to their component parts to effectively recycle them. Not only is that time-consuming, it only works if they are made from all-natural materials. 

Pencils are often made cheaply with poor product. They might come wrapped in sparkly plastic, have glue mixed in with the clay or use synthetic rubber. That effectively makes them unrecyclable and curbside recycling won’t take them. 

What about the alternatives? Well there isn’t really any. In the UK Terracycle offer pencil recycling, but they only take mechanical pencils. The same goes for Rymans.

If you want to use your old pencils, you need to RETHINK AND GET CREATIVE!

Creating an epoxy kitchen worktop

When we built our first project – Skoolie Stays – we created a kitchen counter out of old pennies and halfpennies set into epoxy. It looked incredible and so we decided that we’d tackle pencil waste in the same way. 

We put a shout out on our local school Facebook Page and began a collection for people’s old pencils. They came in all shapes and sizes.

Each pencil was chopped down into a 1cm nub before being glued to a wooden base. It took several days and 2014 pencils to cover the entire piece.  We then poured epoxy in several layers, sanding back each time to expose the pencils, before the final pour that created a glossy finish. 



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