With kids back at school, you might start pondering the environmental impact of their school supplies.
When it comes to erasers, they might seem harmless since they’re worn away to almost nothing by the end of the school year.
But as they’re typically made from non-renewable materials, they’re not exactly green.
Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of erasers.
1. Are Erasers Rubber or Plastic?
Erasers are commonly referred to as rubbers in some regions, so you might assume all erasers are made from natural or synthetic rubber.
It is true that some erasers are made from natural or synthetic rubber.
But, for the most part, they don’t contain natural rubber.
Lots of erasers are also made with plastic, such as vinyl (PVC).
It’s also not uncommon to find erasers that contain soy-based gum for flexibility.
2. How Do Erasers Affect the Environment?
Since erasers get worn down to almost nothing, they’re often overlooked when it comes to evaluating the environmental impact of school supplies.
The main environmental impact of erasers is sourcing the materials to make them.
Materials like plastic are sourced via mining. Both vinyl and synthetic rubber are made from plastic.
Not only are they non-renewable, but mining can cause environmental destruction and is a big polluter.
Approximately 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are from plastic production.
Manufacturing synthetic rubber can cause pollution.
While soy-based materials and natural rubber sound greener, they also still have an environmental impact.
Commercial soy crops can contribute to deforestation.
Soy is also typically grown as a mono-crop; this reduces biodiversity.
Mono-crops are also more susceptible to pests and disease, so an entire crop could be wiped out and go to waste without other plants and wildlife to limit the spread.
Natural rubber has also been linked to deforestation.
Plus, while natural rubber is renewable, rubber trees cannot be replenished if the demand for natural rubber is too high and they are sourced irresponsibly.
The amount of time erasers last varies depending on size and use, but they do not last indefinitely, so there is always a demand for new erasers, which requires energy and resources.
3. Are Erasers Renewable?
Most erasers are not renewable. Vinyl and synthetic rubber are non-renewable.
While soy and natural rubber are, erasers can contain a blend of materials, so unless the eraser is made purely from soy or purely from natural rubber, it is unlikely to be fully renewable.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, renewable resources can still run out if they are harvested irresponsibly and not given time to replenish.
4. Are Erasers Biodegradable?
Most erasers are not biodegradable.
Plastic like vinyl and synthetic rubber are not biodegradable.
While soy and natural rubber are biodegradable, it’s rare to come across an eraser purely made from natural or biodegradable materials, so these are unlikely to be biodegradable.
5. Are Erasers Toxic?
Since erasers are often intended for school children – who may put them in their mouths – most should be non-toxic or are branded as non-toxic, but unfortunately, some kinds of erasers are, in fact, toxic.
Some erasers may contain phthalates.
These are compounds used to make materials more flexible; when it comes to erasers, it’s typically the reason they’re not rigid.
Research found phthalates in erasers and other items like pencil cases.
The biggest concern about exposure to phthalates is the disruption of the endocrine system and its negative impacts on growth and development, the success of pregnancy, and fertility.
In particular, PVC is toxic because it can contain phthalates, as well as lead, and cadmium.
There are regulations about lead in commercial products, so there should be little to no lead in erasers.
Lead is extremely toxic to humans, and children, in particular, are sensitive to it due to the fact that they’re still growing and because children tend to put things in their mouths, so they could be exposed to more lead than an adult would be.
Lead can cause immune and nerve damage, anemia, and other issues.
Cadmium is also a toxic heavy metal, but exposure is typically due to contaminated food and water or smoking, so erasers are not a major culprit of cadmium toxicity.
Cadmium exposure can increase the risk of developing cancer and cause other health issues.
There may also be concerns about pencil lead residue remaining on erasers after use.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, pencil lead is not actual lead and is non-toxic, so erasers do not become toxic after use.
But, erasers are not entirely clean either; since they are porous, they can easily become contaminated with bacteria, so kids shouldn’t put them in their mouths regardless.
6. Are Erasers Recyclable?
Erasers are not recyclable.
While some materials in erasers, like natural rubber, synthetic rubber, or PVC, are recyclable, this doesn’t mean that erasers are recyclable.
It would be difficult to separate natural rubber or PVC from some of the other materials in erasers.
Plus, recycling facilities may not have the means to process erasers due to their size.
7. How to Dispose of Erasers Properly?
Most erasers will have to be disposed of in the general waste bin.
Erasers made solely from natural rubber may be biodegradable.
You’ll have to check the packaging instructions to ensure these erasers can go in a home compost bin.
Bigger erasers may have to be sent for industrial composting.
8. What Are Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Erasers?
For home use, bread can erase pencil. Bread is accessible and biodegradable.
However, it’s not a perfect solution since the bread can only be used once and then discarded – otherwise, it will get moldy.
Dandelion roots are a natural, renewable source of rubber.
However, unlike bread, using dandelion as an eraser is more tedious as it can entail grinding the roots to separate the rubber particles.
Natural Rubber Erasers
Finding erasers made only from natural rubber is the best option if you can’t avoid using erasers since they’re renewable and biodegradable.
Recycled Rubber Erasers
Recycled rubber erasers are more sustainable than regular erasers because recycling requires less energy than producing and sourcing materials from scratch.
It also prevents the need to mine for crude oil to create new plastic and synthetic rubber.
However, it’s still not a perfect solution since recycling is not carbon-neutral, they’re still not biodegradable or recyclable, and there is still a demand for erasers.
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