15 Surprising Things That Are Made from Recycled Materials

istock
istock

You already knew that recycling whenever possible is a responsible thing to do, but did you know that some of the stuff in your recycling bin can find a second life as amazing and unexpected products? 

1. KITTY LITTER 

Certain brands of cat toiletry products are made from recycled newspapers, sourced from local centers whenever possible. On top of being green, because this litter is not clay-based, it also has the added benefit of not kicking up unpleasant kitty dust storms. 

2. SOAP 

You may be surprised to learn that hotels don’t always throw out your mostly intact bar of soap left in the shower. Instead, services can clean the bars and send them to foreign countries where cleaning supplies are more difficult to come by. 

3. ROADS

The next time you’re cruising down a freshly paved highway, you might want to thank your renovation-obsessed neighbor: Discarded roofing shingles are a growing resource for asphalt manufacturers. The old pieces are ground up and used to improve the quality of pavement. Recycled glass can also be used to help the reflective properties of highway markers. 

4. TROPHIES 

Regional sporting achievements or corporate accomplishments can now be recognized in an environmentally friendly way. Several companies are using recycled glass and even newsprint to make trophies. 

5. WINTER JACKETS 

Wearing trash has never looked so good! The polyester lining in coats can be created from old plastic bottles, with some jackets containing as much as 150 containers’ worth of material. 

6. AUTOMOTIVE PARTS 

Unless you’re driving a classic car, odds are your vehicle of choice has components made from recycled bottle caps and containers. Seat cushions, wheel liners, and splashguards are among the parts that use recycled materials. 

7. TENNIS BALLS

Some tennis ball manufacturing processes result in a lot of unused, shaved-off rubber. Rather than waste these shavings, companies can utilize the remnants to make up to two million extra balls a year. 

8. PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT

The durable “plastic lumber” of slides, swings, and other recreational equipment is often the product of High Density Polyethylene, the same kind of tough material found in milk jugs. 

9. BASEBALL BATS 

Aluminum bats used in games from street stickball to the college level can be sourced from used aluminum cans. You’ll also find license plates, pie plates, and thumbtacks made from the highly versatile recycled material—heat-resistant and rust-proof, aluminum can be reused almost indefinitely. 

10. BRICKS 

Depending on your contractor’s preferences, you might wind up living in a literal glass house. Grinding down recycled glass into “cullets,” or very fine shards, can produce a material that’s perfect for use in bricks due to its smooth surface. 

11. SLEEPING BAGS 

As with jackets, the toasty filling of a sleeping bag can be the product of recycled plastics or fiber materials. You might even find one that uses discarded coconut shells for warmth. 

12. BERRY BOXES AND EGG CARTONS 

The next container of berries or eggs you grab at the grocery store might have started as old newspapers.  

13. COFFINS 

Your carbon footprint doesn’t stop leaving an impression when you stop walking around—so make your final resting place a green one. Several companies offer environmentally friendly coffins; some are biodegradable and made from recycled paper or bamboo. 

14. STADIUM SEATS 

With hundreds of thousands of hard plastic seats in arenas worldwide, using existing materials can make a major impact on sustainable businesses. Chairs in major stadiums are already being made from recycled plastic and scrap iron, while older chairs can be donated to teams in smaller leagues. 

15. TOOTHBRUSHES 

The plastic in toothbrush handles doesn’t need to be injection-molded from scratch—some companies use recycled yogurt cups. (Don’t worry: the bristles are new.)

Recycling can make everything old feel new again. Of course, we’re glad that some old things haven’t made a comeback. Like dial-up Internet.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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