By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Who doesn’t have a little love in their heart for Crayola? That first set of crayons gave most of us alive today a little jolt of authority when we were tots. Crayons were the tools we used to make our early mark on the world. Even now, in the world of computers, kids still express their “likes” on paper — and walls and furniture — using Crayola crayons in a bazillion colors, and then graduate to markers, glitter glue and rainbow colored pencils.

Crayola Marker pens (Photo: Thomas Hawke, Flickr)

Crayola empowers children, like Harold in that children’s storybook who draws his world with a purple crayon.

But this week, Crayola seems to have tripped over one of Harold’s lines. The company has been caught “orange red”-handed by a group of kids for not having a sustainability plan to recycle the millions of plastic-encased markers it produces.

The elementary school kids, a green team at Sun Valley School in San Rafael, Calif., have asked Crayola to help them recycle used plastic markers. They filed their appeal as a petition entitled “Crayola, Make Your Mark!” By Friday (May 18), it had logged nearly 60,000 signatures.

So far, Crayola has responded that it has no plan for the post-use recovery of its plastic products.

Stacy Gabrielle, manager of public relations for the Easton, Pennsylvania-based multi-national, told the Marin Independent Journal that the markers cannot be reclaimed because they have those ink sponges or “ink reservoirs” inside, making dis-assembly problematic.

“At this time, we do not have the facilities or a process that will enable us to offer a take-back program,” Gabrielle said.

We hope to hear more, but our calls to Crayola have not yet been returned.

Green not big in Crayola’s box?

A look inside Crayola’s green box reveals that the company has installed a solar farm comprising 30,000 panels on 20-acres of land.

But here’s the scary part: “These solar panels provide enough power to make 1 billion Crayola crayons and 500 million markers a year!” (The exclamation point is Crayola’s.)

Those 1 billion crayons seem to disappear along with the paper covering them. But 500 million plastic markers means, well, 500 million markers, either functioning or in the waste stream. Plastic, by its nature, doesn’t go away.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Other Crayola sustainability initiatives include goals to reduce water use and the amount of waste sent to landfills. The goal for the latter is to move the company from 3 million pounds send to the dump in 2008 to 2.9 million for 2012. That’s not the most ambitious plan ever. But, it has set up an accounting for factory waste.

The biggest failure seems to be Crayola’s lack of a plan for retired products.

For years, companies have been brainstorming cradle-to-grave programs in place for products ranging from tennis shoes to TVs, but Crayola seems to have ducked this trend.

There is a mention of how the company uses plastic flubs to make the end caps of its markers. That’s recycling, but baby-steps, compared to the take-back program that the kids in California have suggested.

Of course, it’s hard to install a cradle-to-grave routine if your production involves cranking out low-margin products based on low-cost plastic. The assembly line would have to be reconfigured in who knows how many ways to accommodate, say, biodegradable cardboardwrapped markers or markers made with plant-based plastics.

That’s why they call it social responsibility, like other responsibilities, civic, moral etc., it doesn’t necessarily represent the easy path.

Perhaps Crayola is noodling, or more likely doodling, over this problem. That’s why there’s little green messaging on the consumer-facing pages of Crayola’s website. They’re still thinking on it.

Crayola's solar farm is helping reduce its carbon footprint. (Photo: Crayola.)

But if their awareness level is high on the inside, it’s not showing on the outside. On the consumer website FAQs, the company’s most urgent green topic appears to be this Q&A: “What’s the difference between the color blue-green and green-blue?” (Green blue is blue with a touch of green, and blue green is the converse.).

That’s not the green discussion consumers need if they want to recycle some of the millions, perhaps billions of, plastic-encased markers or pens the company spews annually. Not even close.

Checking over on Facebook, Crayola notes Earth Day this way: “Happy Earth Day everyone! We make more than 20 different shades of green! In honor of today, we want to know – what’s your favorite?”

Ah, Green Blue? Like Earth?

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