Like most discoveries, writing instruments have gone through a series of trial and error. For instance, in ancient Rome, people wrote with stylus, which was a piece of lead metal on a sheet of black stone. Charcoal was also used to write but both charcoal and lead had limitations. While charcoal was brittle, lead marks were too light to read.
We still call the pencil core as lead, even though they are made of graphite. Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in a string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollow wooden sticks and thus, the pencil was born. The first mass produced pencils were made in Nuremberg, Germany in 1662. The next significant improvement came more than a century later. In 1795, when France was unable to import pure graphite sticks because of a naval blockade imposed by England, Nicholas-Jacques Conte, an officer in the army of Napolean Bonaparte, manufactured pencils by roasting a mixture of water, clay and graphite in a kiln before encasing the resulting soft solidin a wooden surround.
We still follow Conte's method to make pencils. Pencils are one of the most useful inventions, and more than 1,400 crore pencils are used globally every year. But it comes with a cost. Close to 82,000 full grown trees are cut every year to meet this demand. To deal with the waste from unusable pencils, new innovations are coming up in the market. Pencil stubs are being crafted with vegetable and herb seeds, which can be sowed once the graphite is used. Manufacturers such as Ecas (Zero pencils) and Jalebi (Grow Me Plantable Pencil) have created pencils with seeds in their stubs, and are available online.
Once you sow the pencil stub, the seeds in the stub slowly germinates into a plant. (See 'How to grow a plant from a pencil stub').
So the next time we refill our stationery, wouldn't it be nice to use pencils that will one day grow into a plant? After all, all is well that ends well!