Many of the products that we use every day have complex life cycles. A product life cycle is a complete view of every different type of material, the origins of those materials and the processes that they go through to become the products we use every day. How the product will be used up and disposed finishes its life cycle.
Let’s look at the life cycle of a common No. 2 pencil. Most pencils are made from incense cedar, an aromatic wood grown in California. Foresters harvest the trees and transport the logs to lumber mills. Lumber is shipped to the pencil factory.
The lead is made from a mixture of graphite and clay. The graphite is mined on the island nation of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. After the graphite is extracted out of the ground, it takes a ride on a cargo ship to the port nearest the pencil factory. Clay is collected from the banks of the Mississippi River, dried and shipped to the pencil factory.
The eraser is made of rubber that could be made from sap from rubber trees in Brazil, gum from trees in Mexico or petroleum from Saudi Arabia. The rubber is combined with pumice from Italy to make the eraser slightly abrasive.
The ferrule is the metal band that connects the eraser to the pencil. Often made of brass, the ferrule has origins in Canada for its copper and Poland for its zinc.
We will assume this pencil is the natural unpainted type. If you use a painted pencil you could further research how paint is made and where those materials come from.
Our completed No. 2 pencil is now ready to be packaged into a cardboard box or plastic sleeve. It will be shipped to a wholesaler where it will wait to be purchased by a retail store. A truck will transport the pencil from the wholesaler to the store. The customer will buy the pencil and use it. The pencil will be discarded into the trash when it is too short to use and be hauled to a landfill.
Product life cycles are fun ways to discover all of the materials and processes that go into the products we use every day. Use this activity to research another product you use regularly. How would the product lifecycle for a mechanical pencil look?
The Recycling and Solid Waste Education Program is a partnership between Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County and the Development Authority of the North Country. Contact Community Educator, Sayre Stevens for more information about composting or recycling. 788-8450.
Sayre Stevens is the recycling and solid waste educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. Questions and ideas for this column may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson may be reached at 788-8450, ext. 238.