The Simple (?) Life of a Pencil

It’s just a simple pencil . . .

Have you ever thought about how buying a simple pencil does for you? Obviously it is something you can use to write with, or perhaps do math or other things with. But is that the whole story?

Let’s think about how a pencil is made. OK, we know it has lead, wood, a metal ring that holds a rubber eraser. So what?

Let’s start with the lead. Galena, also called lead sulfite, comes from underground mines all over the world. The lead ore seams are blasted out of the ground and then brought to the surface for refining. How many people do you suppose are employed for this purpose, and then what about the means to refine it?

Lead ores are mined at a rate close to 5 million tons a year and the world market for refined lead stands at about US $15 billion. While lead has a high economic value, it is economical to produce. As with all metals, there are two main production routes: Primary production from mined lead ore is the original source of all lead, but secondary production, where it can be recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process is of enormous importance. How many people do you suppose are employed for this purpose?

While it has a high economic value, lead is relatively economical to produce. As with all metals, there are two main production routes. Primary production from mined lead ore is of course the original source of all lead, but secondary production, where it is recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process is of enormous importance.

Lead ores are mined at a rate close to 5 million tons a year and the world market for refined lead stands at about US $15 billion.

Secondary lead production now accounts for more than half of all lead produced throughout the world. More than 80% of lead in the U.S. comes from secondary production. And how many people do you suppose are employed by this process? Don’t forget the drivers of trucks and perhaps ships used to transport the lead.

So without giving away all the really cool facts involved in the production of a simple pencil, I am certain that if you find any of this interesting, you will do some research into the wood, the painting, the metal used for holding the eraser, and the eraser itself. That is an incredible number of people employed that YOU enable by buying a simple five or ten cent pencil!

There are so many things in this world that we all take for granted as being simple products, that we have no clue how many people we enable to be employed every time we buy a simple product. Think of how many products you believe are very simple things, and what must go into bringing them to you and how many people you help every time you buy one of those things. Thank you to the many people of this world.

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