When you think of pencils, you probably think of childhood, the smell of fresh stationery, and the knack you always had for losing them. It’s not often that you think about the environmental effects of using these 19cm lead and wood writing sticks.
Vishnu Vardhan, Founder of Indian Superheroes, an organic farming venture, provides us with some shocking statistics. “All over the world, 15 billion pencils are being made; one billion in India alone. All of this destroys trees and a lot of forest cover is destroyed,” he points out.
Vishnu and co-founder Divya were working with farmers who were facing drought issues in Coimbatore. He says, “They told us that deforestation is one of the predominant factors for drought. Deforestation is also one of the reasons floods occur.”
When they did their background research, they found that one of the major causes of deforestation are pencils. Speaking of the perception problem that forced them to innovate, Vishnu says, “When I say cutting trees, no one thinks of a pencil as one of the main reasons for a tree being cut. We were wondering if there is a way that can replace the wooden pencils with pencils made out recycled paper. From there, we started doing our research. There were quite a few players in China but none of them in India who were doing extraordinary stuff with recycled paper. So we started doing it.”
Having started manufacturing four to five months ago in Coimbatore, they have sold over 1 lakh ‘plantcils’, which cost Rs 6 each. Shrandesh, the Business Development Manager tells TNM, “Once we finish reading the newspaper, we don’t keep it at home anyway. And this doesn’t use any chemicals, it’s made purely from newspapers.”
On the process of making these pencils, Vishnu explained to us that it was semi-automated. He says, “The normal pencil-making process uses the sandwich method where you sandwich the graphite between two halves of wood. But with plantcils, it’s a rolling process. You roll the paper around the graphite lead.”
But how does one expect a pencil made of recycled newspapers to have good grip? Reassuring us, he says, “It gives you a better grip than a wooden pencil. With a wooden pencil, due to the sandwich method, one half of the wood may be bigger than the other half. So the lead may or may not be centred. When it is not centred, and you apply heavy pressure, it will break. With paper pencil, because it is rolled, the lead is always at the centre. The paper is rolled around it. It gives a soft grip. It is easier to write with because it is 100% centred and doesn’t break on applying pressure since the pressure is distributed.”
Working with kindergartens, they even produce fruit pencils. The pencils are coloured like the fruit they learn about and even smell of them! Vishnu says, “We use graded colourants and essential oils to make the different flavours.”
Plantcils range from HB pencils, colour pencils, extra dark, rainbow pencils which give out rainbow coloured shavings. The pencils can also be customised.