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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.