Whiteboard markers: From investigation to change

YRE Competition 2018
15-18 years old

DISPOSABLE MARKERS ARE POPULAR IN SCHOOLS BECAUSE THEY ARE EASY TO USE AND ERASE FROM THE BOARD. AS SOON AS THE MARKER STOPS WRITING, IT MAKES A DIRECT FLIGHT INTO THE CLASS TRASH BIN. FROM THERE, IT TRAVELS TO THE LANDFILL WHERE IT STAYS FOR CENTURIES. THAT'S WHY IT'S A PROBLEM FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. HOWEVER, WE CAN CHANGE THIS.

At the beginning of the 21st century, disposable markers began to be used in Slovakia. They are now slowly pushing white chalk out of the way. Black boards are being replaced by white magnetic boards.

AMAZING, BUT ...

At the Business Academy in Trnava, more than 100 markers are used up every year, and they are not even used in all classes. Each marker contains an average of 20 grams of plastic, which means about 2 kg of plastic per year ends up in the basket. At first glance it may seem that it is not so much. In the Trnava region, however, we have 149 secondary schools. If every school used markers only to a certain degree, like the Business Academy in Trnava, at least 298 kilograms of plastic would end up in the trash. "Markers are a wonderful thing because they have solved the problem of chalk dust. The problem is that disposable markers are not environmentally friendly, " says Dana Bohunická, a Business Academy teacher.

"I am surprised that, in this age of recycling, markers still remain a problem."

RECYCLING?

According to my questionnaire, which was filled out by 35 students, most of them use exclusively markers at school. Nearly three quarters of them know only about the disposables. Still, 90% of students think that markers should be recycled because they are an environmental problem. Almost half of the respondents (48%) believe that they can be recycled.

It's not easy to dispose of a marker. It is made up of several materials and most of the components are plastic. The liquid portion is a mixture of dyes and solvent. The tip of the marker is made of pressed fabric. The solvent for markers is mostly a substance made of kerosene, and is toxic.

Toxicity of markers poses a risk not only to the environment but also to human health (inhalation or ingestion is dangerous). "The plugs of the markers are fused to the sheath of the marker in accordance with EU safety regulations and therefore they cannot be refilled without damaging the casing," says the representative of the most famous Slovak manufacturer of disposable markers, Centropen.

"Plastic reprocessing for us is not possible because the plastic is dirty (the printing, residue of the contents inside the casing)." Thus, disposable markers cannot be dismantled or recycled.”

BEING ECO-FRIENDLY IS EXPENSIVE

An enormous amount of waste is created that has no further use. The solution may be refillable markers which are reusable. Some companies also sell them with a bottle of ink, so you can refill them, or replace the marker tips with new ones. We can therefore use marker sheaths several times.

However, one barrier is the small selection in stores, so the customer has little choice. In one Trnava stationary store they are sold exclusively in full packs, which can discourage customers, who would then rather buy one disposable marker.

Another obstacle may be the price of the refillable marker. From my analysis of online stores, I came to a sad conclusion. Economics wins over ecology. Disposable marker prices range from € 0.65 to € 1.50 on average. However, the price of refillable markers can climb significantly, one costs approximately € 1.50 to € 4.60. Even though people would like to use refillable markers, the cost of these products discourages them. Probably for this reason Slovak schools use only disposable markers. "The tips in the refillable markers don’t last as long and we would pay much more for them," says Jaromír Flaškár, a teacher at Púchov primary school.

Although many people want to protect the environment, their choice is driven mainly by the price tag. "We produced refillable markers in the years 1999-2006. But due to lack of interest, we have terminated production," says Centropen.

THE SOLUTION COULD BE A RECYCLING PROGRAM

Currently, when environmental awareness is being sold by companies, that manufacturer could consider returning to the production of refillable markers. Although companies now use environmental friendliness as a marketing lure, the manufacturers of markers have not used this strategy. An example is a US marker company that has introduced a recycling program for its customers. The customers who buy products from this company can send them back for recycling. This initiative helps pupils in schools to be responsible for protecting the environment (Source: Old plastic is being recovered by a company as fuel).

DISCUSSION CAN LEAD TO CHANGE

In the creation of this article, a wide-ranging discussion on this issue opened up at the Trnava Business Academy. This means that neither Slovak teachers nor pupils are indifferent to this problem, just like their American counterparts. The management of Trnava´s Business Academy has decided to test refillable markers for the first time, as a long-term solution to the problem of minimizing this waste.

This experience confirms that even a small initiative can bring about a big change; from a survey at a school, through disseminating the results, to final negotiations with the headmaster. Trnava´s Business Academy is an inspiring example of the fruitful communication between students and teachers resulting in an eco-friendly solution. If the test is successful, disposable whiteboard markers will be replaced by refillable ones for good.

WHITEBOARD MARKERS: NO MORE DUST IN THE CLASSROOM

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DILEMMA IN THE STATIONARY SHOP: DISPOSABLE OR REFILLABLE MARKERS?

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Written by student from Slovakia.