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CoffinCouches.com

20 Recyclable Objects That Might Surprise You

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CoffinCouches.com

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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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