21 August 2009

Let's Review: Scented Pencils

Last year, the PTA at my sister's kids' school decided to be all environmentally correct in their fundraiser - the fundraiser where the parents have to guilt their friends and neighbors into buying stuff no one really wants. Our father signed up to buy five-packs of cunning rip-stop nylon shopping bags for everyone in the family, and there wasn't really anything else we needed, but, to be supportive, I bought some colored pencils for the kid. Smencils, to be precise, colored pencils made of recycled newspaper and soaked in scent to become smelly pencils. Wouldn't "scencils" have been a better name? Scented pencils. I digress.

Yesterday, I decided we should tackle some of the over-the-summer homework that the girlie has - you know, bone up on kindergarten skills in preparation for first grade. So, out came the Smencils.

The packaging made me apeshit. It's all well and good to make pencils out of newspaper; I like that, you even see the rings of paper when you sharpen the pencil. But every single pencil is encased in its own hard plastic "corn-based biodegradable Freshness Tube" and all the pencil tubes are in a zippered vinyl tote - so there's more packaging than pencils. Why, I ask you, does a pencil need a Freshness Tube? Especially when the company says "we guarantee Smencils will maintain their scent for 2 years - in or out of their Freshness Tubes". When was the last time a kid's pencil in general use lasted for 2 years? And if it keeps its scent for two years without a tube, why does it need the tube in the first place?

Furthermore, I'm skeptical about the whole corn-based biodegradable business. It's not biodegradable in your backyard (it requires a "controlled composting environment", and according to Smithsonian, there are only 113 such facilities across the US). It has to be kept separated from the recycling of other plastics, the kinds with a number in a triangle, "lest it contaminate the recycling stream". So if you can't compost it, and you can't recycle it, it ends up in the landfill!

There's also the "morality of turning a foodstuff into packaging when so many people in the world are hungry", and the possible environmental impact of using genetically modified corn for making said packaging.

Couldn't the Smencils have been packed in a simple cardboard box like pencils used to be?



Disclosure: I purchased the Smencils, and no one paid me for this review.

23 comments:

liz said...

Sing it!

The LIbrary Lady said...

If those pencils last more than a few weeks, your daughter is WAYYY ahead of mine. I buy plain, boring, ordinary pencils from Staples or such by the (simple cardboard)box, and yet there never seem to be any around when JR needs one for her homework (!)

With my asthmatic bronchitis, or whatever they want to call it, I avoid anything scented--magic markers and such. I'm always having kids from the preschools sniffing their hands after I give them rubber stamps, but the ink I use in unscented.

FreshHell said...

Gah! No wonder people just give up and throw everything in the trash. I don't but seriously, why go to this length? I don't know. I hate scented anything, esp markers. They make me ill. Blech.

Oh, and also hate the constant school fundraisers but that's an entirely separate rant.

Nap Warden said...

Hmmm...sounds like they are WAY over-thinking it...don'tcha think?

I Am Very Mary said...

I love the way you rant. *swoon*

Kyla said...

Amen! I hate extra packaging.

Rabecca said...

As a longtime PTA board member, I detest fundraisers with even more passion than you do. What do I hate more? Scented anything. Even laundry. Anyway, thank you for supporting your PTA but sorry about the greenwashing job.

It is always a struggle to find that perfect fundraiser--it sucks no matter how you slice it, that parents have to raise money to pay for things the state and district should be buying.

I help out with fundraisers and every other aspect of PTA, but I refuse to buy stuff I don't need at inflated prices. This year we are trying our first "eco-friendly" fundraiser and I look forward to seeing how it goes.

painted maypole said...

crazy

abby said...

packaging of any sort is maddening. it. never. ends. ever.

what do we do?

and for recycling plastic, it's so annoying -- can do this, not that, depending on the company -- that I never know if I am "contaminating" a bin that's not mine. why don't they just make it all standardized?

and if it's such a big deal, why isn't anyone working on an REAL alternative to plastic.

so frustrating.

Stimey said...

No, really? The Smencils people didn't pay you? Because after reading this, I wanna run right out and buy, um...NO Smencils. :)

Bethany said...

Well put. So many people are fooled by the "buy green" industry, which makes them feel good about their purchases, when really the greenest thing you can do is stop buying so much stuff.

Hopefully, someone from smencils will read this and consider it food for thought.

InTheFastLane said...

Green or not, I will be purchasing a number of Smencils from my son's class in the next few weeks :)

flutter said...

you are a rant master.

Bibliomama said...

The only thing that bugs me more than products that don't even try to be more eco-friendly is products that brag that they are when they really aren't. Not that that's exactly what you said, but it's late and I am still mind-numbed from watching G.I. Joe.

the mama bird diaries said...

I agree. Extra packaging makes me NUTS.

Gwen said...

And they smell like shit. I hate those things.

Vodka Mom said...

naw.. that would mean someone was actually THINKING.

MadMad said...

God BLESS you, woman! I have been yelling about Smencils packaging (the NERVE those people have! The NERVE! Making people think they are environmentally responsible!) since we got sucked into their vortex last year.

Plus they stink. St-encils is what they should be called.

Woman in a Window said...

HA! Love your label.

I hate to say I don't even support these school drives. I just offer money. I can't stand all the waste.

K said...

Smencils? Really? Oh my.

Our PTA did away with all product fundraising. We just don't do it. Of course, we do a million other fundraisers, but we don't see products.

julochka said...

i like the idea of pencils made of recycled material, but why on earth are they scented? undoubtedly with totally synthetic, scary chemicals in view of them promising it lasts 2 years! that's absurd! why on earth does a pencil need to be scented? don't fresh pencils, in and of themselves, smell like back-to-school? in a good way?

and now for something completely different..i bought that falling cloudberries cookbook you recommended and i love it! thank you!

Hip Mom's Guide said...

Never heard of smencils, definitely prefer scencils, and who's the brain child behind the packaging? Nice work, people.

Furrow said...

We have some of these. They were a gift from my ILs. Did you notice that the newspaper print was in some sort of asian font? At least, mine are. So we know the carbon miles are pretty high on this product, too. Still, Z loves the heck out of them, and the first thing she loved to do with them was to repeatedly take the pencils in and out of their plastic tubes, so we at least got some fun miles off the wasteful packaging.