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20 Recyclable Objects That Might Surprise You

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According to the EPA, Americans send 250 million tons of trash to the landfill each year. That’s 40 percent of the world’s waste. Here are a few things you may have been throwing out that, with a little effort, you can actually recycle.

1. Sex Toys

The first step in recycling your toy is to send it to a specialty processing plant, where it’s sterilized and sorted. There, all “mechanical devices” are salvaged, refurbished, and resold. Silicone and rubber toys, on the other hand, are “ground up, mixed with a binding agent, and remolded into new toys.” Metals, plastics, and other leftovers retire from the sex toy life and are recycled into conventional products. As one company puts it, “Love yourself. Love the planet.”

2. Soap

Not all hotels throw out that half-used soap you left in the shower. Some actually recycle it, sending it to Clean the World. There, soap is soaked in a sanitizing solution, treated to a steam bath, and then tested for infections. Once deemed safe, the soap is distributed to less fortunate people across the globe. So stop stealing soap from hotels. You may be stealing from charity.

3. Holiday Lights

Got burnt out holiday lights? The folks at HolidayLEDs will gladly take your old lights, shred them, and sort the remaining PVC, glass, and copper. Those raw materials are taken to another recycling center and resurrected as something new. In 2011, the State of Minnesota collected and recycled around 100 tons of dead lights.

4. Dentures

Grandpa’s choppers may hold $25 worth of recyclable metals, including gold, silver, and palladium. The Japan Denture Recycling Association collects false teeth, removes the metals, recycles them, and discards the rest of the denture (which is illegal to reuse). The program donates all its earnings to UNICEF and has given over $400,000 to charity.

5. Dirty Diapers

The average baby soils 6000 diapers before being potty trained. That’s one ton of diapers rotting in the landfill per child. But not all packages of poo suffer this fate. The company Knowaste collects and recycles dirty diapers at hospitals, nursing facilities, and public restrooms. After sanitizing the diaper with a solution, they mechanically separate the “organic matter” from the diaper’s plastic and paper. The plastic is compressed into pellets, which are recycled into roof shingles. The paper pulp grows up to become wallpaper and shoe soles.

6. Mattresses

You don’t need to dump your old box spring at the landfill. Equipped with special saws, mattress recycling factories can separate the wood, metal, foam, and cloth. The metal springs are magnetically removed, the wood is chipped, and the cloth and foam are shredded and baled. In its future life, your saggy mattress can become a summer dress or even wallpaper.

7. Coffins

Sometimes funeral directors must move a body from one coffin to another. When that happens, the first coffin becomes unusable and unsellable—it’s a biohazard. Rather than bury the coffin at a landfill, some morticians give it to Coffin Couches, a California company that turns caskets into fine furniture. Coffin Couches removes the lid, cleans and refurbishes the interior, and adds legs.

If you want more out of your coffin, check out Greenfield Creations in the UK. They make furniture out of biodegradable, cardboard coffins. The difference is, once you meet your maker, it can be reconverted into a useable tomb.

8. CDs

CDs are made of polycarbonate and won’t decompose at a landfill. But if you send your discs to The CD Recycling Center, they’ll shred them into a fine powder that’s later melted down. The new plastic is perfect for automotive and building materials and regularly becomes pavement.

9. Shoes

Send your beat-up sneaks to Nike Grind, and you’ll help build a running track. Nike’s recycling facility rips apart worn shoes, separating the rubber, foam, and fabric, which are then chewed up in a crusher. The rubber is melted down for running track surfaces, the foam is converted into tennis court cushioning, and the fabric is used to pad basketball court floorboards. So far, Nike has shredded over 28 million pairs of shoes.

10. Sheep Poop

Why turn sheep poop into fertilizer or manure when you can make it into an air freshener? The folks at Creative Paper Wales do that, plus more—they can transform sheep poop into birthday cards, wedding invitations, bookmarks, and A4 paper! That’s because sheep dung brims with processed cellulose fiber. The poo is sterilized in a 420 degree pressure cooker, which separates the fiber from a smelly brew of liquid fertilizer. The fiber pulp is collected and blended with other recycled pulps, creating tree-free paper. The air-freshener, for example, is a simple paper packet filled with flower fragrance.

11. Trophies

Is your room full of plastic bowling trophies from fifth grade? Mine is. If the thrill of victory ever dies, you can recycle your old trophies at recycling centers like Lambawards. They’ll break down your retired awards, melting them down or reusing them for new trophies.

12. Human Fat (Warning: Really Illegal)

If it weren’t for legal complications, America’s obesity problem could solve its energy problem. In 2008, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon lost his job when police caught him fueling his car with a biofuel created from his patients’ liposuctioned fat. Convicting him wasn’t hard, since he advertised the substance online as “lipodiesel.” That's not the first time fat has powered transportation: In 2007, conservationist Peter Bethune used 2.5 gallons of human fat to fuel his eco-boat, Earthrace.

13. Gift Cards and Wallet Waste

Those hotel key cards you keep stealing? They’re recyclable. Most ID cards, credit cards, and gift cards are made from PVC. Each year, over 75 million pounds of recyclable PVC enter the landfill. Recycling centers, like Cleveland’s Earthworks system, are trying to stop it. They accept cards, chopping them up and melting them into sheets of PVC, which are remade into more cards.

14. Crayons

Don’t toss those stubby Crayolas! Instead, mail them to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which takes unloved, broken crayons to a better place: They're melted in a vat of wax, remade, and resold. So far, the program has saved over 47,000 pounds of crayons.

15. Dead Pets

When Fido and Fluffy bite the dust in Germany, you can memorialize them by recycling them. In Germany, it’s illegal to bury pets in public places. This leaves some pet-owners in a bind when their furry friends die. A rendering plant near the town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse accepts deceased pets; animal fat is recycled into glycerin, which is used in cosmetics like lip balm.

16. Shingles

The EPA estimates that 11 million tons of shingles are tossed into American landfills each year. Most of them are made of asphalt. In 15 states, however, it’s legal to pulverize old shingles and recycle them into pavement. For every ton of shingles recycled, we save one barrel of oil.

17. Prescription Drugs

You can—and should—toss out expired prescription drugs. But what about unneeded pills that are still good? Some states let you donate unused drugs back to pharmacies. Some charities also accept leftover HIV medicine from Americans who have switched prescriptions, stopped medicating, or died. These drugs are shipped overseas and distributed to HIV victims in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

18. Fishing Line

Fishing line is made from monofilament, a non-biodegradable plastic that you can’t put in your everyday recycling bin. At Berkley Fishing, old fishing line is mixed with other recyclables (like milk cartons and plastic bottles) and transformed into fish-friendly habitats. So far, Berkley has saved and recycled more than 9 million miles of fishing line.

19. Wine Corks

Your recycling center probably doesn’t accept wine corks, but companies like Terracycle and Yemm and Hart will. They turn cork into flat sheets of tile, which you can use for flooring, walls, and veneer. Another company, Recork, has extended the life of over 4 million unloved corks by giving them to SOLE, a Canadian sandal maker.

20. Pantyhose

Most pantyhose are made of nylon, a recyclable thermoplastic that takes over 40 years to decompose. Companies like No Nonsense save your old stockings by grinding them down and transforming them into park benches, playground equipment, carpets, and even toys.

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Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
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Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Musee YSL Marrakech
A Pair of New Museums Will Honor Fashion Icon Yves Saint Laurent
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Musee YSL Marrakech

In 2008, the legendary Yves Saint Laurent—the 20th century fashion luminary whose designs were inspired by fine art, menswear, Moroccan caftans, and peasant garb, among other influences—passed away at the age of 71. Now, nearly a decade after his death, fashion fans can pay homage to the iconic designer by visiting two new museums dedicated to his life and work, according to ARTnews.

Morocco's Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech pays homage to the designer in a place he famously loved. (He first bought a house in the city in 1966, and his ashes were scattered there after his death.) In 1980, he and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Marrakech's Jardin Majorelle to prevent its destruction by developers, turning it into an immensely popular public garden. Located near the garden—along a street that is named after him—the new museum's permanent and temporary exhibits alike will feature clothing items like the designer's influential safari jackets and smoking suits along with sketches, accessories, and other archival items.

The Moroccan museum will serve as a sister institution to the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which is located at the site of Saint Laurent’s historic atelier and office in France. Following an extensive renovation of the building, the Paris institution will house thousands of sketches, photos, and fashion items related to the designer. The first exhibition will be a themed retrospective, “Yves Saint Laurent’s Imaginary Asia."

Both museums are scheduled to open in October. We’re already donning our smoking jackets.

[h/t ARTnews]


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