The Danger of the Expo Marker

Almost every classroom at Amador has a whiteboard supplied with Expo markers.  Between schools, universities, and other institutions, roughly 400 million whiteboard markers are thrown out every year in America alone (Auspen).  AVJournalism investigates the danger of the expo marker: how they affect the environment and the alternatives to reduce these effects.

When asked their opinion about Expo markers, Dons tend to agree that they have the slight potential to harm the environment.

“On a scale from 1-10, Expo markers can be pretty harmful, probably a six or seven, just because of all the chemicals they release into the environment,” said Apurva Kanny (20’)

“I feel like they’re made of harmful substances but then they’re not really out in the environment for all I know, so I’m not very sure,” said Sahan Suggala (20’).

“It says they’re non-toxic, so I don’t think they’re that bad to maybe animals but it’s also made of plastic and also smells weird,” said Daniel Wu (19’).

Expo markers are much more harmful than many would assume.  The ink in Expo markers have a petroleum chemical called Xylene which gives off the unpleasant smell many of us associate with whiteboard and permanent markers.  Not only does it irritate your skin, but xylene is also absorbed into your bloodstream when inhaled and can cause headaches, nausea and dizziness.  On top of this, the plastic of these markers do not compose easily (Recycle Nation).

“The plastic doesn’t decompose ever, so every dry erase marker ever thrown away is still in a landfill somewhere.  That’s a lot of volume if you think about how much we go through markers and how many dry-erase markers we go through on campus,” said science teacher, Bree Barnett-Dryfuss.

Mrs. Barnett-Dryfuss, has decided to address these problems.  One way she has done this is with the the creation of a special trashcan specifically for whiteboard markers.

“Since I had to get some regular markers and I was annoyed at having to throw them away, I realized I don’t have to throw them away.  I found a source that allows us to recycle them for free! In the teacher mailbox room within the office there is a large trash bin that says ‘Marker Recycling Only’ and so they just dump them in there.  Then, once I have a large amount of them, I can take them and put them inside a box, and Crayola allows us to ship it to them for free. We just tell them how many pounds of markers we’re sending and they will recycle them,” said Barnett-Dryfuss.

One student uses an expo marker to perform a math problem for the class.

Along with Crayola, almost every marker manufacturer has a take back program, where you can ship your markers back to them and they will dispose of it correctly.  Crayola has also partnered with the clean energy company, JBI, to create the Colorcycle initiative in which recycled markers are converted into clean fuel that can be used boilers, ships, and cars.

Mrs. Barnett-Dryfuss also encourages the use of a refillable alternative to Expo markers.

“Once a regular expo marker is empty, the whole thing has to be thrown away and one of the difficulties with recycling is that there’s different types of plastic and different parts so a lot of sources are just like ‘it’s too much trouble, I’m not gonna do it.’  One of the [refillable markers] we use is a aluminum container and it has a cap. We pull it off and we just refill it with ink that comes in a little drop bottle. It’s also about half the cost – if not less – than the regular markers.  There’s another kind that has a little cartridge that you put on the top. There’s actually quite a few different companies that are moving towards using refillable inks so they don’t have to waste as much,” said Bree Barnett-Dryfuss.

Some refillable marker brands include Auspen and Ecosmart.  Like Mrs. Barnett-Dryfuss described, these aluminum whiteboard markers come with a bottle of ink so you can refill them when they begin to dry up.  The aluminum casing is tough yet recyclable and the ink does not have xylene.

With the use of refillable alternatives and by recycling them properly, the danger of the expo marker can be eliminated.  Starting with Mrs. Barnett-Dryfuss’s bin, Amador can keep the environment safe one marker at a time.