In Bryan Ware’s kitchen, you’re more likely to find a pot of crayons brewing on the stove than a pot of tea. It’s an odd scene, but this father of two isn’t cooking up some strange, eccentric recipe. In fact, there’s a very special – and important – method to this rainbow-colored madness.
Ware is a successful businessman who launched his own consulting firm, WareWorks, in 2000. The company has worked with big names such as Google in the past and can advise clients on everything from product design to manufacturing methods.
In 2006, things were going pretty great for Ware. The Danville, California native had a wife, two kids and a thriving company that was continuing to grow. Still, something was missing.
Ware has loved the arts since he was just a boy and over the years he has experimented with everything from architecture to photography. But it wasn’t until he reached middle age that he realized how he could use his passion for visual expression to bring joy to the lives of others.
It all started in 2011. Ware and his family had gone out to dinner to celebrate his 40th birthday. And like so many times before, the waiting staff set down some crayons in front of the kids to keep them busy while the meal was being prepared.
But this dinner was to change their lives. As Ware examined one of the crayons in his hand, he began to wonder what happened the discarded coloring tools after the customers left. And so as he was leaving the restaurant, he asked the waiter what became of them.
As it turns out, the crayons are simply chucked into the garbage, regardless of whether or not they were actually used. This revelation upset Ware not just because it’s incredibly wasteful, but also because of it’s environmental impact.
According to one estimate, 500,000 pounds of broken crayons are thrown into American landfills every year. And because the crayons’ paraffin wax is not biodegradable, it can take centuries to break down.
So Ware decided to do something about it. He began collecting broken or otherwise discarded crayons from restaurants and everywhere he could find them. And then, he went one step further and found a brilliant new use for them.
First, Ware sorts the crayons by color. Then, he heats them in a pot to melt the wax and separate it from the paper. The odd process looks a little like boiling pasta.
Next, he pours the molten wax through a sieve into his personally-designed molds. Once the wax cools down and solidifies, Ware has 96 brand new crayons of the same color.
And this is where the magic happens. Ware doesn’t remanufacture the crayons for profit. Instead, he puts them into boxes – one of each color – and sends them off to children’s hospitals throughout California, for free.
In this way, the crayons are kept out of landfills, while simultaneously bringing joy to the lives of kids that need it most. In Ware’s own words it gives sick kids, “the ability to dream whatever they want to be. That right there is why we do this.”
The entire manufacturing process takes place in Ware’s house in Danville. There, they also make extra sure that all of the melted and rebuilt crayons are safe for use and free from bacteria and harmful contaminants.
Ware’s idea was so successful that, in 2013, he decided to set up a full-time, non-profit organization dedicated to the cause. The Crayon Initiative mobilizes hundreds of volunteers who help Ware with the collection, sorting, remanufacture and distribution of the crayons.
Ware now receives some 500 pounds of crayons from restaurants and schools every week, which means he is keeping a staggering 26,000 pounds of crayons from landfills every year. What’s more, he is able to make up to 4,000 remanufactured crayons every day.
Although Ware’s work is largely restricted to California, the ultimate goal is to expand the Initiative to the entire country. In 2015, he sent his finished crayons to New York – the first city outside California to receive them.
The crayons have proven to be very popular among their recipients. As one girl recovering from spine surgery told the NBC News, drawing helps take her mind off the pain.
Hospital staff and parents are delighted with the project too. They say the crayons allow the kids to express their creativity, while also alleviating the stresses associated with hospital stay.
As for Ware, he explained to The Mighty that if the crayons give the kids “an escape from that hospital room for ten minutes, we did our job.” And the philanthropical entrepreneur hopes to get even more kids coloring in by setting up further art-related programs in the future.