Sharpie Permanent Marker

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Regan Kretz
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There are few iconic products on the market that you can find in almost any setting. Whether you are at work, in a classroom, at home, or even driving in the car, there is a high possibility that a Sharpie marker will not be too far as they have integrated themselves into the routines and lives of people all over the world. Sharpie markers have become a staple for people to use in a day-to-day setting for practically anything that involves writing or drawing, used not only in professional settings, but creative and care free ones as well. Being such a well-known product, many people do not bat an eye when considering whether it is sustainable of them to purchase or use the product. When looking into the Sharpie marker and the brand behind it, the website is not transparent about the formulation, production, and manufacturing processes. These processes include the use of numerous chemicals, extraction of many raw materials, and require massive amounts of energy that produce a hefty amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year. They also do not show to support many organizations that seek to provide positive impacts on society and the environment. Their products are the most sought-after during back-to-school season, as well as found in most workplaces, including being used by presidents to sign official government documents. It is imperative that we look into brands like Sharpie and hold them accountable for not working more towards bettering themselves as they continue to integrate into the lives of people all over the world. 

What it's made of:


There are a few components that make up the Sharpie marker: the body, cap, felt tip, ink reservoir, and ink, itself. The felt tip is made from a combination of the raw materials wood and synthetic fiber. This requires extracting resources from the earth to obtain these raw materials. The body and cap are made from plastic resin. This plastic resin is produced using the raw materials propylene and ethylene. In order to obtain these materials, we need to heat hydrocarbons which are found in resources such as petroleum and natural gas through the crude oil refining process. This whole process— from the extraction to the transportation, materials used, and production— is one of the leading contributors to the production of GHG emissions such as carbon dioxide and more. Regarding plastic resin production, in 2015 in the United States, polypropylene production produced 11.6 million tons of GHGs like carbon dioxide while high-density and low-density polyethylene produced 12.9 and 5.8 million tons, respectively. To form the marker reservoir that holds the ink in the marker, polyester is used. The production of polyester is a high-impact process as there is a large amount of energy required and GHG emissions produced. If there are no wastewater treatment systems in factories that produce polyester, many hazardous substances can enter the environment. To form the ink, permachrome is used, made from propanol, butanol, alcohols, and dye from plant sources like wood and leaves to make the color. These are produced through chemical processes that also produce numerous GHG emissions. The markers are packaged to be shipped out in cardboard boxes which requires using resources from pine trees that go through a process that requires adding numerous chemicals to enforce the strength and integrity of the cardboard material. 

How it's made:


The plastic resin is injected into a mold to form the body and cap. The injection requires heating the plastic resin into a molten state and and injecting it into the shape of the body to leave to harden. The tip is made by mixing the materials with water and molded and baked into its pointed shape. The polyester reservoir is placed inside the body and filled with ink to finish off the marker. There is large amount of energy used in this process as heating and mixing it is required as well as an abundance of water used in the mixing process of the materials together. All of the chemicals and inks used in the formulation, production, and manufacturing process produce a number of harmful fumes that can make the factories that produce these markers an unpleasant environment for anyone who works there. They are manufactured in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico and Maryville, TN so they require lots of transportation to be shipped all over the world where they are requested, and therefore, produce excess amounts of GHG emissions through this travel time. Sharpie sends its recyclable waste to an outside recycling company called TerraCycle. TerraCycle’s purpose is to upcycle materials so others do not need to extract more raw materials (which is definitely a step in the right direction for Sharpie); they attempt to take non-recyclable waste and products and then turn them into a raw material, however they are not sufficiently detailed on explaining how they exactly do this. Ink is not allowed to be discharged into a sewer system because it will alter the color of the system. As a result, the ink cannot be released into a drain, and it must be combined with absorbent material so that it can be disposed of as a solid would. Certain ink can also display hazardous characteristics like toxicity, and then would need to be properly disposed of like other hazardous products would according to waste regulations. When consumers look to dispose of their own markers, they usually just throw them in the trash where it will most likely end up in a landfill. The toxic substances in the marker can be harmful to animals and potentially humans if the reservoir is exposed and mixed with water to cause wastewater. Some of the ingredients like polyester (because it is an oil-based plastic) can even take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Who makes it:


Sharpie was founded first as Sanford Manufacturing Company in 1857, focusing on ink and glue. The Sharpie marker was then founded in 1964 and changed the game of writing and drawing with its permanent marking abilities on all kinds of surfaces as the first pen-style permanent marker. As a company, they do not seem to show any transparency towards their production and manufacturing process on their website, or acknowledge the materials used and the efforts it takes to obtain them. They have many brand deals and sponsorships with celebrities and large companies, and their main focus seems to be on promoting self-expression through creativity with their markers, pens, highlighters, etc. They launched an “Uncap What’s Inside” campaign to empower people to express themselves and connect with others through using Sharpie markers to be creative and think outside of the box. Besides their internet and social media-run campaigns, there do not seem to be any other initiatives they are involved in that truly seek to aid in social and environmental concerns that wreak havoc on the world. While they are simply a company that produces writing and drawing supplies, they have much power and influence on the world being one of the most popular marker companies in the world. They would be incredibly impactful if they took their efforts to new heights, and I am disappointed in not finding any other organizations they are donating to or aiding as well as any missions they are voicing or progressive statements they are advocating for.