Restaurants Waste 150 Million Crayons Each Year. This Charity Is Donating Them to Classrooms

cupephoto/iStock via Getty Images
cupephoto/iStock via Getty Images

When most people think of restaurant waste, they picture spoiled produce and uneaten leftovers. In a single year, the restaurant industry sends roughly 11.4 million tons of food waste to landfills [PDF]. But Sheila Michail Morovati had a different type of restaurant waste on her mind when she took her then-toddler out to eat nearly 10 years ago. Like many places that cater to families, the eatery they went to gave out brand-new boxes of crayons for coloring kid menus, and when the check was paid, Morovati left the barely used crayons behind to be disposed of along with the food scraps.

"I noticed all the tables around me were doing the same thing, and kept thinking: there are budget cuts in education, teacher spending has skyrocketed, [and] there’s no art education left," Morovati tells Mental Floss. "So I just decided to ask some restaurants to start collecting the crayons kids leave behind.”

That initiative she took nearly a decade ago has since ballooned into an international operation. Today, Crayon Collection works in nine countries and all 50 states and has been formally recognized by both the U.S. Congress and Buckingham Palace for its achievements. The organization's goal is simple: salvage crayons in good condition that are destined for the trash and provide them to classrooms in under-served school districts. To date, it has led to the donation of more than 13 million crayons.

Crayon Collection aims to chip away at the 150 million crayons thrown away by restaurants each year, but its impact goes beyond the environment. When school budgets are cut, art classes are usually the first programs to go. And if those schools do have art supplies, teachers are often paying for them out of pocket. But if schools have a family restaurant in their community, they may already have a source of free, practically new crayons at their disposal.

“We’ve been able to completely support [teachers] not just in one area of the classroom, but we’ve also raised awareness about why it’s so important to not put this pressure on teachers,” Morovati says. “It’s just such a sustainable and great win-win.”

Crayon Collection

The organization sources most of its crayons from restaurants. Because the crayons handed out at eating establishments are only used for a few minutes—if at all—there’s little difference between them and crayons that are bought new from the store. But anyone can donate any gently used crayons they have at home to a collection site. Crayon Collection’s Color Kindness program encourages kids with leftover crayons at the end of the school year to pack them up in bundles and send them to underfunded schools with a handwritten note. Not only do recipients benefit from the gift, but the kid senders get a lesson in paying it forward.

Crayon Collection’s progress shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, the organization broke the Guinness World Record for most crayons donated to charity in 8 hours by collecting more than 1 million crayons for Los Angeles schools. One of the nonprofit’s most recent projects is a collaboration with Penguin Young Readers. The publisher designed special collection boxes branded with characters from the kids’ book The Day the Crayons Quit to send to 3000 restaurants around the country. Anyone can get their community involved by becoming a crayon ambassador and recruiting local restaurants to request a box and save their old crayons for donation. You can also donate to the organization directly through PayPal.

Morovati is confident that if you reach out to your neighborhood restaurants about Crayon Collection, they’ll be receptive to the idea. “Back when I first started, I talked to different restaurants and kept trying to explain the whole process," she says. "Now they understand right off the bat like, 'Oh we’re already on it.' I want this to be a societal norm that people don’t throw away good stuff like these crayons. I hope that that’s a symbolic shift in behavior toward many other things. Plastic straws are one of them, plastic water bottles—virtually anything that still has life to it that could be used.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

13 Back-to-School Essentials (Even if You're Learning From Home)

Amazon/Hot Topic
Amazon/Hot Topic

Going back to school will look and feel a little different this year, especially when your commute is just a 45-second sprint from the bed to the kitchen table or basement couch. (Or maybe you’re not even leaving the bed at all.)

While pants are now optional, school is still in session—even if you do have The Office or Hamilton playing on loop in the background—so you’ll definitely still need some key essentials to get you through the day.

Whether you’re a teacher gearing up for another year of remote learning or a college student preparing for another semester at Zoom University, these 13 handy items will help make the transition a bit easier.

1. Ergonomic Mesh Office Chair; $80

Smugdesk/Amazon

In search of a comfy yet firm office chair that won’t leave your butt asleep after 15 minutes? Look no further than this mesh office chair, which offers lumbar support to help you sit upright and comfortably for hours on end, sans the back pain. Bonus: The breathable padded mesh cushion is designed to prevent sweat stains.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Sony Noise-Canceling Headphones; $78

Sony/Amazon

Block out the sounds of neighbors, roommates, fighting family members, or annoying siblings with these noise-canceling headphones from Sony. The adjustable metal sliders ensure a secure yet comfortable fit, and you can also connect them to your Amazon Alexa to make listening to music and podcasts even easier. They'll also hold up to 35 hours of battery life, so they’ll last you through (almost) the entire week.

Buy it: Amazon

3. VIVO Adjustable Standing Desk; $180

Vivo/Amazon

If you get tired of sitting for hours on end, this adjustable and easy-to-assemble standing desk was designed with you in mind. And with 36 inches of surface space, you have plenty of room to fit not one, but two screens along with a keyboard, mouse, a few snacks, and some coffee. If you'd rather learn while lounging, swap the desk for a comfy laptop tray ($35) so you can couch surf through your lectures.

Buy it: Amazon

4. SIIG 10-Port USB Charging Station; $49

SIIG/Amazon

Keep all of your gadgets fully charged—and within arm’s reach—with this functional yet efficient charging station, which can be used for smartphones, Kindles, iPads, and other tech devices. This one from SIIG features 10 USB ports and eight individual slots to help you stay organized and keep your wires untangled.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Shakespeare Insult Pencil Pouch; $13

Unemployed Philosopher's Guild/Amazon

We all know Shakespeare had a way with words, especially when it came to insults. This pencil pouch is adorned with some of the Bard's best jabs, so you won't have to think of your own killer comeback the next time your honor's been besmirched. The compact pouch can easily fit in your backpack or purse—otherwise, display it proudly on your desk for all to see.

Buy it: Amazon

6. To-Do List Sticky Notes; $8

Hot Topic

Keep track of all of your chores and responsibilities—and make sure none of them slip through the cracks—with this adorable assortment of sticky notes from Hot Topic. What sets these notes apart is that they're color-coded by the level of urgency, so you can easily tell the difference between your drop-dead deadlines and what you're free to procrastinate on.

Buy it: Hot Topic

7. Cactus-Shaped Ceramic Diffuser for Essential Oils; $21

LivelyBreeze/Amazon

While potted plants don’t actually improve air quality, this cactus-shaped oil diffuser will certainly help you to breathe easier by reducing stress and transforming your workspace into a Zen oasis. And, it doesn’t require any electricity, heat, or batteries. (TL;DR it’s a lot less work than having to water your succulents every week.) All you need is your favorite essential oil, and you’re good to go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Case; $47-$65

Fjallraven/Amazon

This sturdy, durable case from Fjallraven will protect your precious laptop from any unexpected spillage, mishaps, or accidents. It features all-around foam padding to prevent any bumps or scratches, and there's an outside pocket to hold any important documents, worksheets, or notes. Choose from four different colors: black, navy, green, or pink.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The Office Kevin’s Chili Floating Pen; $10

Hot Topic

The only thing better than Kevin’s famous chili (or The Office in general) is this Office-themed pen, which is complete with an illustration of the famous (spilled) chili and an angry-looking Kevin. If you need a break from school or work, simply tilt the pen to watch the pot of chili magically slip through Kevin’s hands. Just try not to laugh out loud every time you use it.

Buy it: Hot Topic

10. Dwight Schrute Journal; $15

Hot Topic

Stay ahead of the curve, take notes, and keep organized using this Dwight Schrute-inspired journal featuring tabs adorned with icons of a beet, a stapler in gelatin, and even nunchucks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

11. Dustin from Stranger Things Chia Pet; $17

Chia Pet/Amazon

Remember Chia Pets? Of course you do. These nostalgia-inducing novelty items are officially back in style. This one, which is shaped like Dustin from Stranger Things, is the perfect desk decoration to give a little life to your home classroom. The kit includes a planter, a drip tray, and chia seed packets. Dustin’s luscious locks will achieve maximum growth in just one to two weeks and can be replanted indefinitely.

Buy it: Amazon

12. LEVOIT Air Purifier; $90

Levoit/Amazon

This compact air purifier from LEVOIT works hard to keep your air clean and eliminate pollen, smoke, pet dander, mold, or dust. It essentially makes zero noise while it's on, so you can catch up on your work or hop on a video lecture without any distractions. The display light can turn on and off at your convenience, and you can always opt to set a timer for one to 12 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Hamilton “Write My Way Out” Spiral Notebook; $13

stephimariee/RedBubble

Write your way out of almost any dilemma with this 120-page, A.Ham-approved notebook. The back cover is complete with a slot for you to stash away any important letters, essays, or doodles. For an incredibly productive brainstorming or study session, blast the Hamilton soundtrack in the background and let it serve as inspiration.

Buy it: Redbubble

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