Bryan Ware was at a restaurant with his family one night in 2011 when a question popped into his head. “My kids were coloring with crayons, and I was wondering what [the restaurant was] doing with the excess crayons,” said Ware, founder of The Crayon Initiative, in an NBC News interview.
The father of two discovered that crayons typically end up in the landfill after just one use at a restaurant. As Ware explained to eTown, this is done as a legal precaution to prevent children from passing potentially harmful germs to each other.
Still, the wastefulness bothered Ware, so he put his supply-chain experience to work to figure out what else could be done with these wasted art supplies.
He and his family began collecting used crayons and melting them down at their home to create new, sanitized, paper-free crayons to donate to local children’s hospitals.
After consulting with an occupational therapist, Ware created a special homemade mold to give his recycled crayons a unique design — large and three-sided, instead of the traditional round shape — so that they’d be easier for kids to hold and wouldn’t easily roll off hospital trays.
In the decade since that fateful dinner, The Crayon Initiative has successfully created a network for sending free crayons to kids in hospitals all across America.
Art can be a powerful force in the lives of hospitalized children.
A 2018 study found that kids in children’s hospitals who had access to art supplies experienced lower levels of stress than those who did not.
As Shannon Joslin, the Child Life Director at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, explains, arts and crafts are essential in alleviating some of the fear of being hospitalized.
“When kids are in the hospital, so much control is taken away from them,” Joslin told The Crayon Initiative. “The ability to give them crayons and paper and let them lead where it does is really powerful when they are in an environment where a lot of that is taken away.”
The Crayon Initiative’s impact isn’t limited to helping kids, however — the organization is also keeping waste out of landfills.
Each year, an estimated 75,000 pounds of crayons are thrown away in the U.S. alone. And, since crayons are made of the chemical paraffin, they turn into a “waxy sludge” that never biodegrades and clogs up landfills.
Since its founding, The Crayon Initiative has collected nearly 50 million unwanted crayons, diverting almost 350,000 pounds of art supplies away from landfills and donating over 650,000 packs of its crayons to hospitals.
“Crayons themselves are powerful tools,” Ware says in a video on the organization’s website. “The fact that everybody knows how to use them … you don’t have to explain to them what to do with this tool. They just pick it up and they start coloring.”
To learn how to donate used crayons to The Crayon Initiative, visit the group’s website.