Recycled Crayons and a new way of doing business

November 29th, 2015 by Cathy Rust Leave a reply »

I am always looking for real-life applications of the circular economy. If you’re not familiar with the term, while it’s been around for awhile (and put into practice more than you might recognize), it’s still not widely known outside of environmental circles. The basic point of it is that there is no waste created during the production of an item; whatever is output as waste from one production process is used as input for another, whether in the same factory or for a different business. This theory necessarily includes the actual product as well, bringing extended producer responsibility into the framework.

I am constantly coming up with applications of this concept, although I have yet to convince a company to try one of my pilot project ideas, but I have faith that sooner or later some enlightened individual will be brave enough to try one (btw, the ideas also make good business sense, since companies can sell the same product over and over again.)

I watched a BuzzFeed video about a wonderful initiative by Brian Ware, who collects old crayons, melts them down and donates the new models to local hospitals for children in California. In fact, he went so far as to get an occupational therapist to design the mold for the crayons so that they easily fit children’s hands. This commendable effort was born out of his experience at family-friendly restaurants. It turns out all those crayons the kids use often end up in the garbage even if they are not touched by the kids at the table. He came up with The Crayon Initiative, an ingenious idea and yet so simple you kind of want to slap your forehead and say, “D’oh! why didn’t I think of that?”

The idea was to stop wasting resources and to reuse them. But instead of just collecting them and dropping off a bunch of old, used crayons at hospitals, the team at TCI makes brand new crayons out them. It’s a time-consuming process where volunteer hours play a big part. The crayons need to be collected from restaurants and daycares, then sorted into colours, papers torn off, crayons melted down then poured into molds Brian had specially designed by an occupational therapist for children’s hands. Finally, they are distributed to local children’s hospitals.

The collection and reuse process extend the crayons’ lives and, therefore, fewer natural resources are used (in this case petroleum for the wax) because new ones aren’t needed. Technically, however, it doesn’t save the crayons from landfill. The website rightly points out that most crayons are made from petroleum-based wax which never biodegrades. Once the crayons are applied to paper, that piece of paper can’t be recycled in most paper recycling methods (assuming the artwork makes it to the recycling bin and not the garbage can) because the machines prohibit waxed paper, including crayon waxed paper; wax (oil) and paper pulp don’t separate well. It’s the same reason you can’t recycle your pizza boxes. But by reusing them and making them shiny new, Brian has managed to save 2000 new boxes of crayons from coming into these hospitals and, therefore, saved these resources from being used.

What would happen if the crayon companies jumped on the recycling bandwagon? Think about it: let’s start with it as a “do good” project for hospitals, shelters, refugees, etc.. The crayon companies set up dropoff points at toy stores, restaurants, libraries, daycares, schools — basically, wherever children frequent and might use (or purchase) crayons. Then there is the laborious and time-consuming task of sorting, tearing off the paper, melting down, remolding and distributing the crayons. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a logistical nightmare! It can’t be done! It’s too expensive!” Well, tell that to Brian Ware and the TCI, because they seem to be able to do it. If your trucks are dropping off new crayons to toy stores, couldn’t you pick up old ones at the same time? If you make the paper labels easy to tear off (like a zipper back or something), wouldn’t the sorting go faster? If volunteers sort the crayons because they knew they were going to a good cause, wouldn’t it go faster and be easier for everyone? Finally, if the new-old crayons were donated to hospitals, shelters, refugee camps, etc., wouldn’t you feel good about what you are doing — all while extending the life of a crayon and saving some natural resources while helping your own Corporate Social Responsibility goals at the same time?

:: via Buzzfeed

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