• Graphite is a form of carbon1 named after the Greek word graphein, “write”5. Graphite is the base material of a pencil and is also used in a wide variety of applications such as batteries and automobiles, steel manufacturing and nuclear reactors. Pencils are classified with numbers and or letters indicating the hardness of the graphite core.4 The graphite can be encased in wood to create a standard pencil or placed inside of plastic in the form of a mechanical pencil.


  • The final product of a graphite pencil consist of a graphite powder and clay powder combination shaped into a thin core, usually with a cedar casing 4. Some pencils have erasers which are composed of rubber, held on with a metal case called a ferrule.4 China is the world’s leading producer of graphite followed by India and Brazil.12


  • Graphite is mined through either open-pit or underground methods which affect the physical integrity of the area. Graphite mining and processing may pollute the air and soil of the surrounding area due to accidental powder spillages.11
  • Harvesting of wood for graphite pencils can result in major deforestation, if the land is not replanted. The assembly of pencils also requires large amounts of energy. 9

Human Health

  • Inhalation of graphite dust can cause irritation to the eyes and lungs and in some cases even cause lung disease in individuals working in the graphite mines.10 Such levels of graphite dust is very unlikely to be produced when using graphite pencils.

Social Equity        

  • The harvesting of the wood for the graphite pencils can impact surrounding communities through the loss of land.9

Safe Use and Exposure

  • Pencil graphite is non-toxic if accidentally ingested or rubbed on to skin. 8

Proper disposal

  • Graphite pencils should be used to their full potential, donate any broken or unwanted pencils or mechanical pencil lead to the givetake. Pencil shavings can be saved and composted.7

Safe Alternatives

  • Historically, pencil cores were made of lead. Modern graphite pencils are a much safer alternative.
  • In some instances refillable mechanical pencils may be preferred to wood pencils. Choose high quality mechanical pencils that can be recycled or repaired if they break. Look for products made from recycled plastic or metal.


  1. “What is Graphite?”, Northern Graphite,
  2. “A Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils, Erasers and Blenders”, Toad Hollow Studio,
  3. “Graphite”, Minerals Zone,
  4. “Pencil”, How Products are Made,
  5. “Graphite Definition”,,
  6. Metals and Mining: Electrical Graphite,
  7. “75 Things You Can Compost, But Thought You Couldn’t”, How Stuff Works,
  8. “Pencil Lead”, Illinois Poison Control,
  9. Wooden Pencils, Sustainability Insights,
  10. “Graphite”, National Library of Medicine,
  11. “Graphite – Powder and Scrap”, Wikipedia,
  12. “10 Top Graphite-producing Countries”, Investing News,