When San Juan Island Elementary School students break or wear down crayons, they don’t throw them away — they give them to Sandy and Meg Strehlou.
The local mom-and-daughter team has been collecting discarded crayons around San Juan Island for about three years, to turn junked pigments into new art tools, right in their own kitchen.
Meg was just about 9 years old when she and her mom formed their independent business, Island Girl Recycled Crayons. The idea was born from one of Meg’s 4-H projects, where she researched and presented crayon waste on a poster for the county fair.
“We thought it would be a good thing to recycle crayons because the are really bad for the environment, and it keeps them out of dumps,” said Meg.
According to Crayola’s website, the company produces nearly 3 billion crayons each year. Many of those, said Sandy, end up in landfills, where the crayons don’t disintegrate due to their petroleum ingredient. Some restaurants on the mainland, she noted, discard crayons after only one use.
So the Strehlous decided to craft new crayons out of others’ unwanted pieces. They melt down thrown-out hues on their kitchen stove, reform them into the shape of hearts and package them to sell at locations like the San Juan Island Food Co-op and the holiday market at Brickworks, which is held in the winter. The newly restored crayons are also packaged in natural materials, like cardboard and wood, to maintain the recyclable theme. The crayons cost $30 for a box of 13 and $10 for a box of four.
The public elementary school collects hundreds of discarded crayons for the duo but they also receive individual donations of just a handful.
The company’s revenue, said Meg, who is now 12, goes towards her college fund, as well as some personal picks, like clothes.
It takes hours, said Sandy, to unwrap the crayons, sort them by color, melt them on the stove, pour into new molds, set, cool and hand-polish the results.
“There’s physics going on here and we observe it,” she said.
What is left is roughly half-inch-thick heart-shaped crayons, in hand-crafted colors like chartreuse and magenta.
Creating hues can be hard, Sandy added; there’s often too many donated browns and not enough whites to create varied tints. Sometimes, leftover colors in the mold can add a dot of accidental dyes. In one instance, said Meg, a green heart with a brown droplet looked like an olive. Yet, it’s these unique discrepancies that illustrate the merchandise’s handmade charm.
“It’s definitely an artisan product,” said Sandy.
Meg even had the idea to “diversify their product line,” as her mom called it, by adding homemade slime. The slime is a moist, gooey sludge that kids can play with or adults can use as a stress reliever. The new product out-sold the crayons at last year’s holiday bazaar, said Sandy, though they are still perfecting the recipe, and it costs $7 a jar.
For Meg, being part of her own business as a seventh-grader at Spring Street International School is both difficult and rewarding.
“It’s hard work, but you feel good about yourself,” she said.
To donate crayons, contact 360-378-8337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.