Marker Recycling Is Not A Thing

Marker Recycling Is Not A Thing

Be cool if it were.

Wouldn't it be magical if “they” could take back ALL of the zillions of markers, chop them up and make new little markers? 

Reality is:
• Marker “Recycling" Programs = Incineration
• Or to put it in Sanitized-Speak:  Waste to Energy

The market for recycled plastics is broken. Way too much supply, not enough demand, and an unrealistic system. Like using a fire-hose to water a house plant. There's nowhere for this material to go but the environment or to be burned.    

Let's play the "Wear That Hat" game for a second. You run a Recycling Facility and you receive a modest shipment of 5 tonnes of used markers. 

Marker body is made of #5 Polypropylene, the caps might be #1 Polyethylene, the guts are Polyurethane and soaked in ink. You'll have to pay to send the guts to landfill so you'll need to employ people to separate the marker components. Are you going to pay to process the #5 and #1 separately or are you going to throw them in together for a lesser product? Got you! That was a trick question! All plastic is a lesser product once melted down. Plastic, in all of its chemical content glory, loses integrity when exposed to heat, UV light, and friction. Plastic can only be down-cycled. *sad face* There are 7 different types of plastic and thousands of chemical combinations, colorants, and variations which can really complicate the recycling process. 

So, now what? Are the marker companies that sent you these markers buying the nurdle-version back from you? Nope! They're using virgin material because it's higher quality and it's cheaper.

How will you cover your costs to run your business? How are you paying your employees? You've got no buyers for your product and nowhere for it to go. Now you're paying to rent warehouse space until you find a buyer. All the while, hundreds of millions of plastic markers are piling up on your doorstep.

Companies tell consumers that their markers are getting recycled as a marketing ploy to make customers feel good about their purchases. Folks buy more, companies make more, markers dry-out, markers pile up and pollute.

This is what we like to call the Marker-Purchasing-Industrial-Complex. ;) 

This unfortunate scenario is the reality for what's happening to transfer stations in the Global North and subsequently flooding the South East. We ship our waste to other countries and it has nowhere to go but wind-up as pollution on doorsteps and literal backyards. 

This woman from Indonesia separating marker components might make a couple of dollars per day for this toxic-handling, 7 days a week. 

The waste piling up in these countries is so profound that whatever can't be salvaged and sold (which is the majority) gets openly burned. Children play on mountains of plastic waste, never having seen the ground beneath it. All for what? So children can make posters of the Solar System?

Wondering if the problem is infrastructure, or why these places don't have collection systems to deal with this stuff?   Unfortunately, we don't even have the infrastructure to "deal with this stuff". We are either shipping it "away" or landfilling it. The infrastructure to handle this volume of waste does not exist. 

Marker Recycling

*Photo Credit: Stiv Wilson, Story of Stuff Director of Campaigns.

(If you don't find yourself in plastic-overdrive after reading this check out The Story of Stuff's upcoming 2019 documentary "The Story of Plastic" and watch the informative, perception-altering mini-docs prior to movie release). 

Now that we've exposed the Magic Recycling Fairy for the fallacy he/she is, shall we walk down Incineration Lane? Are you still with me or have you left to go do something positive and uplifting? Unpopular opinion: TRUTH is uplifting! Mic drop. I digress. 

The photos above are likely not markers that have been collected for a Cycle-Program. Those puppies are round up and sent off to a specific facility. We won't name any names or call anyone out; we'll let you do your own research on that. (You might not be able to find extensive information on the facilities and there's a reason for that).

But what we can tell you is this...   

Plastic incineration:
• Waste to Energy plants are located in low-income communities and developing world countries - Naturally.
• Burning of plastic emits toxic pollutants (dioxins + heavy metals) - Not all plants are equipped to capture toxic emissions. And how could they be? 
• In 2016 waste incinerators released the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, more than half of which comes from plastics.
• Then there’s the matter of the mega-toxic ash that is left after the burning of plastics - Anyone volunteering to store that in their neighborhood?

Don't believe us? Check out what Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives has to say about the Waste to Energy Myth.
Burning Plastic = More Plastic Production

*Photo came from @BreakFreeFromPlastic Instagram

So there’s that bunch of bummer.

Even IF these “Energy Conversion” programs were state-of-the-art, zero-toxic-emissions, totally-safe-non-pollutey, we wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface of the surface for how many markers are in circulation.

*Math Alert*
59 Million students in the U.S. K-12. Let's say 1/2 are asked to purchase a conservative 12 markers per year. 

29,500,000 x 12 = 354,000,000 Markers
354,000,000 x .776 oz. = 247,704,000 oz.
247,704,000 oz. = 17,169,000 lbs.
17.1 Million pounds of markers annually.

What doesn't get captured buys a one-way ticket to Landfill World, Litter Town and ultimately Ocean Pollution City. You're on the right track if you're asking yourself "If these efforts aren't really working why are companies doing it? Why are they advertising these programs?" To make you feel good about buying more. I've fallen for it, Heather has fallen for it, we've all fallen for it. 

  • If there's a recycling bin nearby, we're more likely to be wasteful.
  • If we believe something is going somewhere to be "recycled", we're going to feel better about ourselves and purchase more.

So what do you do with this newly minted information?
End of steps.

We're still waiting for anyone to explain how disposable markers used by students justify toxic pollution that lasts literally forever. *crickets*  

Generations survived for generations without them (ask a grandparent).
Strong Opinion:  Kid’s projects are way cooler without markers. 
Alternatives:  Color Pencils, Stabilo Markers (wood+wax), Wax-Peel Markers, Crayons.

Ditch the disposables already. 

Best resource to learn about the global movement to battle plastic pollution? Hands down Break Free From Plastic. "Nearly 1,500 organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis."

Thanks for making it this far! You get the high honor of our Top Notch Gold Medalist Reader Award. It buys you nothing but you can put it on a resume. 

Heather + Nikki