Most of us grew up with Crayola products in our home: markers, crayons, paints…So many wonderful memories! For the longest time, Crayola markers and other products have been our preferred choice for our kids’ art supplies. And with back-to-school sales just around the corner, soon we’ll be heading back to the stores to replenish our Crayola stockpiles. This had me wondering, as such a mega-giant in the art supply world, what kind of environmental impact does Crayola leave behind?
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This isn’t the first time I have talked about eco-friendly school supplies. From picking a more sustainable backpack to buying recycled binders and compostable notebooks, you would be surprised at all the different ways we can integrate more sustainable practices into our back-to-school routines. So, let’s talk about Crayola… and more specifically, Crayola markers! Are Crayola markers vegan or toxic? And is Crayola a sustainable company we can get behind?
What is Crayola?
Crayola is an art supply company based in Easton, Pennsylvania. Crayola’s name comes from a mix of “craie” which translates to “a stick of white or colored chalk” in French, and “ola” which comes from the word oleaginous, or oily.
Since the early 1900s, they have been a force to be reckoned with in the art supply world! Crayola markers were first introduced in 1978, and at the time Crayola had only 8 different colors available. They now produce 700 million markers (and 13.5 million crayons) a year! Crayola now offers tons of different kinds of markers and colors to choose from, from permanent markers to highlighters, to fun neon markers.
In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, Crayola also currently has several sustainable initiatives I can get on board with. For example, they invest in 100% renewable energy from solar power for their US manufacturing plants. This program alone has saved enough electricity to power 3,000 American homes per year! They also offer a ColorCycle k-12 Marker Recovery program where recovered plastic is converted into energy, however, this program was suspended with the Covid-19 pandemic and has not been reinstated at the time of writing this. While I do appreciate that Crayola offers a take-back program for their plastic markers, we must remember that millions of used plastic markers are STILL entering our landfills where they sit for decades.
Although these are just a few of Crayola’s sustainability programs, they also source their pencils from responsibly grown forests and have committed to drastically reducing all emissions across their business operations by 2030.
What are Crayola markers made of?
According to Crayola, the markers themselves are made of six main components. These include a color solution, a porous plastic nib, a plastic barrel, a cotton filament (ink reservoir), an end plug, and a plastic cap.
The color/ink portion of the marker is likely made from a mix of water and dyes, although we don’t know for certain what goes into the ink of Crayola markers since they are a trade secret.
Are Crayola markers vegan?
So, are Crayola markers vegan? Probably not. While Crayola doesn’t test on animals like many companies out there, they most likely use ingredients that come from animal byproducts in their markers (adding animal byproducts to dyes helps to stabilize the colors and is commonplace in the art supply world).
When asked on Twitter in 2018 if their Supertip markers were vegan or not, they responded:
We’re happy to share that Crayola does not test its products on animals. While a variety of Crayola products contain animal by-products, our product formulas are proprietary, and we don’t have additional information to share.Crayola (on Twitter)
One of the animal-based ingredients that might go into the production of the marker dyes is stearic acid (or beef tallow), a byproduct that comes from cooking down beef remains. There could also be insects, bone char, or carmine (all animal-based ingredients) in their markers. Once again, because we don’t know the ingredients of their pigments, we can only speculate here.
Are Crayola markers cruelty-free?
With this in mind, Crayola is likely indirectly supporting the commercial meat industry, and therefore, they are not 100% cruelty-free.
Are Crayola markers toxic?
Crayola markers and other products are primarily used by children, so it’s also very important to consider the ingredients that go into these products in terms of human toxicity!
While we don’t know the exact ingredients that go into Crayola marker dyes, most marker ink contains a mix of a solvent, resin, and colorant. The solvent (oftentimes isopropyl alcohol) is used to dilute the marking ink and makes up about 1-10% of the marker weight. While this kind of solvent isn’t harmful to humans if the marker is a permanent marker or a dry erase marker, chemicals like xylene might also be added to help the marker ink last longer. Because of xylenes toxicity, cyclic alkylene carbonates might be used as a replacement.
But great news, Crayola markers are non-toxic and will not cause harm to your child if the marker ink comes in contact with their skin, is ingested, or inhaled. According to Crayola, their products “have been evaluated by an independent team of toxicologists and found to contain no known toxic substances in sufficient quantities to be harmful to the human body, even if ingested or inhaled”. Their products also carry the Art and Creative Materials Institute's (ACMI) APPROVED PRODUCT (AP) seal, which basically means they meet industry quality standards.
Are Crayola markers safe?
While Crayola markers or nontoxic, Crayola does note that if your child has any food sensitivities or allergies you might want to consider another product, better to be safe than sorry! Crayola also has a running list of common allergens that are NOT found in their products. These include:
- Eggs & Egg Shell
- Nut & Nut Oil
- Red Dye #40
- Sesame & Sesame Oil
- Tree Nuts
They have also mentioned there is a possibility that latex gloves may have been worn during the manufacture and distribution of their products. Finally, a few of their products may contain wheat, and since most of their products are manufactured at the same facilities, they cannot guarantee all their products are gluten-free.
Craft safety is another important thing to talk about when thinking about the risks of Crayola markers. Art supplies often have small pieces and attachments that could be a choking hazard to a little one. As such, Crayola has a recommended age grading for all their products and has stated parents should avoid any of their products that have small parts – like marker caps and tips – for anyone under three years old. Another practical idea is to store items that might be a choking hazard in a secure spot (I like to reuse old Tupperware containers to store markers and other art products up and out of reach).
What are some alternatives to Crayola markers?
While I definitely don’t think Crayola is the worst option out there when it comes to sustainable art supplies, there are so many other markers out there that are nontoxic and/or cruelty-free and also won’t break the bank. Here are a few of my personal favorites!
1. Copic Ink
While on the pricier side, Copic markers are some of the best vegan-friendly alternatives to Crayola on the market in terms of performance. My favorite thing about Copic markers is that they are refillable, so not only are you doing your part to help reduce plastic waste, but you can also blend different inks together to create your own custom colors!
2. Melissa and Doug
Melissa and Doug markers are non-toxic and super affordable. And did I mention this brand is AWESOME? Melissa and Doug have committed to planting 10 million trees by 2030 and are partnering with One Tree Planted. They have also joined the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and will be rolling out How2Recycle labels on their packaging soon. And that’s just the start. They also promote sustainability in their own workplace by moving to an energy-efficient office and going paperless at work.
Melissa and Doug also make eco-friendly toys and are the #1 brand for wooden toys for preschools! I can’t say enough good things about this brand.
Although Chartpak isn’t a vegan brand, their Chartpak ADMakrers and Spectra ADMarkers sure are! This set comes with 25 different colors and a colorless blender. They also are non-toxic, made in the US, and have 4.5 stars on Amazon!
Faber-Castell is another great brand for art supplies. Their Pitt and Pitt Artist brush pens (which function similar to a marker) are vegan friendly and not tested on animals! Plus, 82% of their energy use comes from renewable sources and they also offset the carbon footprint of their production sites using their own forests!
According to an official Statement by Faber-Castell’s Press Department: “all pencils, pens, and erasers from A. W. Faber-Castell Vertrieb GmbH are based on inorganic components (e. g. inorganic fillers, inorganic pigments), syntactical raw materials (organic pigments, dyes, plastics) or vegetable raw materials (waxes, oils).”
ZenZoi’s Dry Erase Markers are non-toxic and come in a 100% recyclable tube instead of traditional plastic packaging! Like ChartPak, they also have 4.5 stars on Amazon, so you know you are buying good quality. One reviewer mentioned ZenZoi’s markers performed much better than Crayola, they said:
“These were the only non-toxic AND washable dry erase markers for toddlers that were thick! We have gone through the Crayola thin markers multiple times and they never last very long… They can sometimes be a little difficult to erase but they do come off of the skin easily.”
AusPen dry-erase markers are also refillable! According to the brand, one refillable AusPen replaces 80 conventional (non-refillable whiteboard markers)! They are also fully recyclable in domestic facilities and contain no animal byproducts.
A final word on Crayola markers
So, is Crayola vegan? No… But they don’t test on animals, their products are nontoxic, and as an organization, Crayola also has some great sustainability-based initiatives. In short, I don’t think they are the worst art supply options in terms of environmental sustainability, but there is still room for improvement. And if you are looking for a marker set that is both vegan and non-toxic to add to your sustainable back-to-school routine, there are tons of other options out there on the market that hit both of these checkboxes!