Marker Mitzvah Project: Converting Crayola

Marker Mitzvah display at school program

Marker Mitzvah display at school program

Here’s an easy mitzvah project I started with our 3rd graders, and it benefits the entire school. The mitzvah is B’al Tashcheet—”do not destroy”—and what we are trying to “not destroy” is the Earth: we’re saving oodles of markers from the landfill.
Markers are obscenely wasteful: so much plastic, so little ink, and when that ink runs dry the marker is not recyclable.* By the end of the year even our little school produces hundreds of dried-up, never-to-biodegrade markers, and each one winds up in the landfill. Until now.

Most cities don’t recycle markers, but Crayola does. Crayola’s ColorCycle program lets participating K-12 schools ship dry markers to an “energy partner” for free, where all are melted into diesel fuel. They take all markers, any brand, including highlighters, permanent, and dry erase. All I have to do is register, print a shipping label, and mail markers we’ve collected in classrooms throughout the year.

But first, we had to convert ColorCycle to Judaism. I wanted to frame the project Jewishly to give the students another opportunity to consider recycling as something Jewish: as a biblical commandment and a Jewish value. I chose Bal Tascheet since it seems to be the mitzvah most often invoked with recycling, but Shmirat ha-Adamah (guard the Earth) and Tikkun Olam could work, too.

pouring our markers into shipping box

preparing our markers for shipping

The ColorCycle website does not provide details about the mechanical and chemical processes, and frankly, I have questions about the “clean fuel” created by melting markers. I accept on faith/hope—not science, which isn’t provided—that the amount of diesel produced by melting our markers means that the same amount of diesel would not have to be produced by refining “fresh” fossil fuels.

collection box for school entrance

collection box for school entrance

ColorCycle also seems to lack an introductory video for kids to learn about the program and to present to their fellow classmates or parents. I did find a related video on YouTube which sufficed. The sound is a smidge out of sync, but the shots of the energy plant are cool: showing thousands of markers being poured into a giant hopper! It also shows the final fuel coming out of a tap.

An overview of student involvement:
My students were sorta sad to think of the dead markers piling up in a landfill, but they didn’t get excited until they saw my paper ream box nearly full of markers I’d already collected. (I keep a Marker Graveyard in the artroom, next to the recycle box.) We wondered: was each marker truly dead and of no further use in the art room? Only one way to find out: they tested each on our paper-covered tables. They loved this. (We noticed that some of the younger kids tended to throw markers in the Dead Zone just because they like to throw markers.)

The students were pleased to learn they were in charge. They had ownership. They started this pilot program and introduced it to the school. Next year’s 3rd grade will take over.

My students did the following:
•Learned what usually happens to dead markers (landfill).
•Learned about Bal Tashcheet mitzvah (w Tanakh).
•Watched a ColorCycle intro video.
•Made a marker collection bag for each classroom.
•Tested markers pronounced dead by other classes.
•Disassembled markers to see the parts (and note amount of plastic).
•Made a trifold display advertising our project at school entrance.
•Made a large collection box for the school entrance.
•Made a 2 min. video introducing our Marker Mitzvah project to the school and parents.
•Re-used dozens of Crayola markers to create marker mezuzah cases and liquid watercolors. (See the next post about our liquid watercolors!) Taking apart the markers was their favorite thing. It was like therapy.

I can’t show you our homemade video because I’m not allowed to share pics of our students, but it was AWESOME.

the kid that made these bags had never used a stapler before. He's an expert now!

The kid that made these bags had never used a stapler before. He’s an expert now!

The one thing I regret is that we didn’t have time to prepare the boxes for shipping. It’s important that the students experience this final, grown-up step. (I may wait till August and let the same kids do this…)

Bottom Line Doability Factor: If we can start this with just a few of our 30 minute once-a-week classes, anyone can start a school-wide marker mitzvah project. Crayola makes it easy. It’s up to us to make it Jewish.


What if you are not a K-12 school in the contiguous 48 United States and parts of Canda? Write to Crayola and ask them to allow more schools: daycares, preschools, etc.! Crayola started ColorCycle because ENOUGH STUDENTS ASKED THEM TO. Meanwhile, search by zipcode on the ColorCycle site to see if there’s a participating school nearby which will be happy to take your markers.

Prang / Dixon company has a free-shipping program to recycle markers, but as far as I can tell, it is only for Prang brand markers.

Terracycle offers programs that allow users to ship many different types of waste that is usually non-recyclable: pens, juice pouches, Solo cups, diaper packaging, binders, and more. Most programs offer free shipping.

Are there others? If you know, tell me and I’ll add resources here. Thanks!

(Here’s a weird little video from Colorcycle which shows a talking marker urging another marker to recycle itself. I don’t like it, but I can imagine that a student-created stop-action film would be a nifty project for classes with more time. Goal: to advertise the program to the rest of the school and community.)

*Some city recycling programs might recycle the plastic parts of markers, but the marker would need to be disassembled and the ink removed. The difficulty of this task varies with the brand.

One response to “Marker Mitzvah Project: Converting Crayola

  1. Toby Rosenberg

    great project thank you