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13 Products Made Using Recycled Materials

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Riderecycle.com/stills/

One man's trash is another man's line of eco-friendly stuff. These companies went green by using recycled materials to make these products, which are functional, stylish, and Earth-friendly. 

1. Keen’s Harvest Wallet and Bags

Keen makes the bags, totes, and wallets that comprise its Harvest Collections out of pre-consumer automobile side airbags. The leftover, excess, or obsolete airbags are shipped from the manufacturers to a recycler in Salt Lake City, where they’re sorted before being shipped to a facility in Chico, California. There, the bags are cut into bag pattern pieces either by hand (using a rotary knife) or with a die-cut machine. Crafters sew the product together; when completed, each item is hand numbered and signed by the person who made it.

2. Looptworks Leather iPad Covers

Looptworks is no stranger to using recycled materials—they’ve previously crafted items from neoprene wetsuit fabric, cotton jersey, Italian wool, hemp, nylon, vinyl, and recycled polyester—but these upcycled iPad cases are their first foray into leather. The cases are made from scraps of excess shoe leather eliminated because it had natural blemishes. This discarded material can amount to 4500 pounds per day from just one factory.

3. Cardboard fm Radio

This radio, made mostly from recycled cardboard, can also be recycled at the end of its life. It’s powered by four AAA batteries and catches FM signals with its antenna, but you can plug your iPod in to listen to your own music, too. Get one over in the mental_floss store.

4. Moving Comfort Activewear

The grounds used to create your daily jolt of caffeine have to end up somewhere—namely, a landfill. Many pieces in Moving Comfort’s activewear line incorporate a fabric called S. Cafe, which uses a patented process to remove the phenol, ester and oil from coffee grounds and turn them into yarn. That yarn is incorporated into a fabric that, thanks to the coffee, is naturally odor repellant, protects from UV rays, and dries quickly.

5. Skateback iPhone back

Each week, skateboard factories create enough waste to fill a city bus—so Grove and Maple xo collaborated to make these iPhone backs out of the discarded post-industrial skateboard material. The backs are each milled and finished by hand, so no two are alike; they attach to the back of the phone with a 3M adhesive.

6. Wonderful Wizard of Oz iPad Cover

Put the “book” back into ebooks with this awesome iPad cover, which looks just like the first edition of Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, available in the mental_floss store. We’ve also got The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice; all of the covers are made of 30 percent recycled materials.

7. Dakine Men’s Surf Pack

One need only look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to realize that a lot of the plastic we use ends up in the ocean—so it’s cool that this wet/dry surf bag (which has a waterproof wetsuit pocket) is made with 100 percent recycled PET fabric from plastic bottles. (Dakine has other packs, duffle bags, totes, iPad bags, and carry ons made from the material, too, for both men and women.) The company also doesn’t use PVC coating—an environmental toxin—on its products, so they’re ultra-Earth friendly.

8. Record Bowls

Vinylux finds new use for old vinyl records by turning them into functional bowls. Most of the records the company recycles are "scratched, warped, or otherwise played-out," so there's no need to feel bad. The bowls are molded into shape over custom-made forms, the label is laminated, and the spindle hole is sealed with clear tape. (If you find bowls boring, the company also makes clocks, ornaments, sketchbooks, bookends, and mirrors.) No part of the record is wasted; the paper is collected and recycled, and the vinyl scraps are sent to a plant in Nashville, where they're recycled and turned into brand new records. 

9. Baseball Bat Bottle Openers

Sure, they’re expensive—but these bottle openers, made from bats swung by the Major Leaguers, are almost as cool as tickets to a game (and cheaper, when you factor in stadium prices for a hot dog and beer). Each opener has a number, which can be plugged into a database to find out which game the bat was played in.

10. Pi Kitchen Towels

These Pi towels, available in the mental_floss store, are made from cotton flour sacks and eco-friendly ink.

11. Coal Headware Cottonwood Beanie

Coal Headwear’s Cottonwood Beanie is made of cotton yarn, which is repurposed from clippings and scraps made during manufacturing. The color is already in the scraps, so less dyes and chemicals are used in the process of repurposing the materials into new yarn.

12. ReCycle Bikes

These bikes are handmade in Portland, Oregon, from recycled aluminum. The seats are made of renewable cork, and they use belts instead of chains because belts require less maintenance. Though it's not quite there yet, the company hopes to one day have the bikes made of entirely recycled materials.

13. Green Toys

These super cute, kind of retro toys are made out of recycled plastic milk jugs. Even their packaging is 100 percent recycled (and recyclable)—and, as a bonus, doesn't have any of those twist ties that make regular kids' toys such a pain to open.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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