Education

This California nonprofit turns discarded crayons into new ones for children’s hospitals

Bryan Ware, president of the Crayon Initiative, wants to donate 200,000 packs of crayons this year. His nonprofit provides reconstituted crayons to 123 children’s hospitals, including Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.
Bryan Ware, president of the Crayon Initiative, wants to donate 200,000 packs of crayons this year. His nonprofit provides reconstituted crayons to 123 children’s hospitals, including Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.
Micah Alise Bledsoe/Cronkite News

A California nonprofit has collected more than 20 million discarded crayons from across the United States, melted and remolded them, then donated the new crayons to more than 100 children’s hospitals, including two in metro Phoenix.

Bryan Ware is founder and president of the Crayon Initiative, which he began in 2011.

He got the idea while he and his family were at a restaurant that provides crayons for patrons to scribble and color with.

“What happens to these crayons after we leave?” Ware wondered.

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An estimated 45,000 to 75,000 pounds of broken, worn-down crayons are dumped in U.S. landfills every year, according to the initiative’s website.

Ware said he originally wanted to donate crayons to schools to help with art programs, but that proved difficult. The initiative now donates recycled crayons to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa and 123 other hospitals across the country.

Ware said he usually does large team-building events at corporations to sort the donated crayons by color. After sorting, workers or volunteers melt the candles.

Ware said workers first must remove the paper crayon wrappers, which he donates to an artificial log company.

“They grind them up and put them in the logs to burn so there’s no waste that we develop here,” he said.

Bryan Ware, founder of the Crayon Initiative, melted old crayons in his home before he found a location for his nonprofit.
Bryan Ware, founder of the Crayon Initiative, melted old crayons in his home before he found a location for his nonprofit.
Micah Alise Bledsoe/Cronkite News

Clarissa Byrd, a child-life specialist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said crayons can “provide hours of enjoyment” for hospitalized children.

“There’s kids that are in there that have all of these emotions going on, and being able to grab a box of crayons and take their mind off of the trauma that’s going on and to color is so important,” Byrd said.

Ware said he hopes to donate 200,000 packs of crayons this year.

Keeping discarded crayons out of landfills is important, for Ware, watching the children’s reactions is what he loves.

“Knowing that we brought a smile to their face inside a world that most of us can’t even identify with” is the best part, he said. “That’s the good feeling.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.