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I know it is terrible for the environment and also a serious health threat, so I hesitate to use pencils. But plastic pens seem like a bad idea, too. What should I stock up on before heading back to college?


By Tobin Hack




I know that lead is terrible for the environment and also a serious health threat, so I hesitate to use pencils. But plastic pens seem like a bad idea, too. What should I stock up on before heading back to college? —Lindsay, MI

Actually, pencils have always been made with nontoxic graphite, not lead. When a huge deposit of graphite was discovered in England in the 1500s, it was mistakenly thought to be a form of lead, and the name stuck, at least for colloquial use. So if you can get past those nightmarish, SAT-bubble-filling memories, feel free to return to the good old No. 2 pencil. Opt for ones made from reclaimed or FSC-approved wood, or even from compressed recycled newspapers. As with any type of recycled product, always look for the highest post-consumer recycled content percentage available—upwards of 50 percent is a good goal. Recycled and refillable pens abound as well, and there are even nontoxic highlighters on the market. Always go for the least smelly option you can find—strongly scented ink usually means your pen or marker is emitting unhealthy VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. For green office supplies, you should try Office Depot (officedepot .com/buygreen) or Staples’ Eco Easy section (staples.com/ecoeasy).

My college doesn’t have a good textbook collection system—is there a way to make sure my books get resold or recycled? I wouldn’t mind getting some money back, either. —Nick, OH

Knowledge is power, but it’s also criminally expensive these days, so you can’t be blamed for wanting to get some money back while you help save trees. With student loans, meal plans, housing, and the rising price of watery beer, who wants to shell out a thousand bucks on new books each year?

The best thing to do is to start your own program on campus. That way, your 600-page astrophysics textbook goes straight into the hands of someone who’s taking the same course next fall, rather than being shipped across the country to some big textbook-rental warehouse and back again. Log on to eHow.com for tips on starting a campus-textbook recycling program.

But there are some useful online options for cheap used-textbook rental as well. Check out bookrenter.com,  campusbookrentals.com, or chegg.com—a rental agency that partnered with a reforestation company called Eco-Libris so that they could plant a tree for every book you rent. Chegg allows for only “minimal highlighting,” and note-taking is off-limits, so keep a separate document as you read—small price to pay for a healthy planet and a heavy wallet, right?

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Issue 25



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