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What happens to restaurant crayons? This dad found out and decided to do something about it.

One person's trash is another person's great idea.

Ever wonder what happens to the crayons they give kids in restaurants?

You know the ones I'm talking about. They're the crayons that sometimes come with a placemat bearing the likeness of a chain restaurant's mascot.

But what happens to those crayons after the meal ends and the family hops back into their car? In a lot of places, they just get tossed out. That's right — straight into the trash! Seems a bit wasteful, doesn't it?


Restaurant crayons' purpose are presumably to serve as an offering to the culinary gods in order to stave off pre-meal temper tantrums. Photo via iStock.

Bryan Ware had an idea for all those discarded crayons. What if they could find a second life?

In 2011, while Bryan and his family were celebrating his 40th birthday at a local restaurant, his sons were busy doing what kids do: coloring. That's when he wondered aloud, "I wonder what happens to these crayons after we leave if we don't take them."

Photo from The Crayon Initiative.

He asked the server and learned that the crayons — even ones that were barely or not even used — got thrown away. Here's how his website describes what happened then:

"Bryan was shocked and saddened to find out that any crayons put on the table, whether slightly used or not even touched, had to be thrown away and eventually ended up in the landfill. Bryan took those crayons with him that night. He was convinced that the life of restaurant crayons didn't have to end there. It became his personal challenge to find a creative way to recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere."

Fast forward a couple of years, and Ware's personal challenge came to life as The Crayon Initiative.

The wax used to make crayons is (generally) not biodegradable. That is, it'll be around for — well — longer than any of us.

The Crayon Initiative website estimates that somewhere between 45,000 and 75,000 pounds of broken crayons wind up in landfills in the U.S. each year. So they work to divert crayons that would otherwise be headed to a landfill, recycling them for use in children's hospitals instead.

Photo from The Crayon Initiative.

The Crayon Initiative collects unwanted crayons and melts them down, turning them into fresh crayons.

They start by melting crayons into hot wax. The wax is strained and poured into custom molds.

GIF from The Crayon Initiative YouTube page.

What do you end up with? Fresh new crayons ready for fun.

These crayons are a bit larger than what you'd find in a standard pack of Crayolas and for good reason. With the help of an occupational therapist, The Crayon Initiative decided to mold their repurposed crayons thicker than average, making them easier to grip for younger kids and those with special needs. They're also more triangle-like rather than circular.

Photo from The Crayon Initiative.

Since 2013, The Crayon Initiative has helped deliver more than 2,000 boxes of crayons to hospitals across California.

This month, Ware plans to make his first Crayon-Initiative-specific trip out of state when he delivers crayons to a hospital in New York. With the help of some volunteers, The Crayon Initiative aims to donate 10,000 packs by the end of the year!

Photo from The Crayon Initiative.

The project keeps growing, too, bringing joy to kids with every new pack.

Photo from The Crayon Initiative.

Interested in helping out? The Crayon Initiative has a list of ways you can volunteer and donate on their website.

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