My son Nicholas is in fifth grade. He and his friends Emma and Sadie have been running a recycling program at their school since third grade. Each year they have to make arrangements with the principal so that their recycling bins will be left alone by custodial staff and they have permission to go around emptying their bins–for which they give up their recess time twice a week. I’m so proud of these kids for being diligent about their program, week after week, year after year!
You might think pens and markers aren’t recyclable or it isn’t important to go to the trouble of recycling them. It’s true that most curbside recycling programs don’t accept pens and markers because the process of separating the recyclable case from the inky part, and sorting the cases according to what type of plastic they are, is complicated. However, TerraCycle collects writing instruments and recycles them into plastic storage tubs. When Nicholas learned that our friend Suella had launched a Writing Instruments Brigade, he wanted to help!
After two years of seeing just how many ballpoint pens, dry-erase markers, highlighters, permanent markers, and regular felt-tip markers are discarded by a school of over 800 students, I’ll never again think that it would be no big deal to let all that plastic go to a landfill or get incinerated into our air!! The kids haven’t been counting their collections (although I’d love to see them do that, to get some numbers to wow the student body and also to satisfy my curiosity) but Nicholas brings home approximately a half-full grocery bag most weeks. We usually bring the markers to Suella at church, but when there’s an especially big haul we’ll drop them off at her house while running errands by car. It’s easy for us, and she says her role is easy, too: Just collect markers until the box is full and send it off to TerraCycle!
The first year, Nicholas and friends collected markers in bags that they taped to the walls next to the school’s staircase entrances. It worked, but it wasn’t as convenient for students or teachers as having collection bins in the classrooms, so they weren’t recycling as many markers as they thought they could get. (Also, the bags were flimsy and didn’t always stay in place.)
Last year, I made an announcement in church asking people to bring in empty, clean containers that were the right size to hold about a dozen markers. We got a great haul of plastic containers from yogurt, cleaning wipes, coconut oil, dish detergent, etc. Nicholas and friends decorated them and put one in each classroom. Sure enough, they got more markers that way!
Nicholas brought home all the bins at the end of the school year and planned to use them again. Unfortunately, some kind of parental malfunction occurred: Daniel and I remember that the bins were stacked in the corner of the dining room near the basement stairs for quite some time and that we both felt they should get put away somewhere…and then they weren’t there anymore, so one of us must have put them in a better place…but where?!? We looked everywhere that seemed plausible, but we couldn’t find them!
Thus, the bins you see at left were created last weekend. Because we were in a hurry to relaunch the recycling program, we sprung for new plastic containers–these have the advantage of a standardized appearance that will help students and teachers spot them in the different classrooms. They are deli food containers from Gordon Food Service (which has stores where anyone can shop), sold in a pack of 25 for $5, without lids; since we didn’t need lids, it was nice not to have to pay for them or figure out what to do with them! The containers are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic) so when they are worn out, they can go into curbside recycling.
Nicholas and his friend Ashlyn covered the bins with paper from his craft supplies, clearly labeled with marker and attached with tape. It took them less than two hours to prepare 50 bins.
Here is a close-up of one of the bins. (Photos were taken by Nicholas.) They say, “Recycle old Markers, Pens, and Highlighters.” Many of them also say, “Go Steelers!” or other inspirational messages. 🙂
Having run some recycling programs myself, I’m thrilled to have my son following in my footsteps…and I’m relieved that he is collecting stuff that isn’t sticky, isn’t covered in other people’s saliva, and doesn’t attract ants! It’s been fun helping him think through how to set up his bins and how to encourage people to recycle. It’s great that he has like-minded friends who have shared his enthusiasm for this project. Check out the article Nicholas wrote about the recycling program for his school newsletter at the end of third grade.
If you live in the East End of Pittsburgh, you can get with this program! Send your dried-up markers and pens to school with anyone who attends Pittsburgh Colfax K-8, or contact me and we’ll work out how you can get your markers to me or directly to Suella.
If you aren’t near here, or you use a lot of markers, or there’s something else you see that needs to be recycled, well…. Now it’s your turn. What will you do to stop the mindless squandering of resources by your fellow Earthlings? You could be the one who turns the tide, at least in one place, at least for a while. You’ll never know until you stand up and get out there and give it a try.
P.S. I’m aware that Crayola also has a program to recycle used markers. I haven’t participated in this one myself, but if you’re considering setting up a marker recycling program, this is another option to investigate.