25 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

iStock.com/Orbon Alija
iStock.com/Orbon Alija

According to the EPA, Americans generate approximately 262 million tons of waste each year—and that amount keeps growing. In honor of Earth Day, which we'll celebrate on April 22, here are a few things you may have been throwing out that, with a little effort, you can actually recycle.

1. Dentures

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Grandpa's choppers may hold $25 worth of recyclable metals, including gold, silver, and palladium. The Japan Denture Recycling Association is known to collect false teeth, remove and recycle the metals, and discard the rest of the denture (which is illegal to reuse). The program has donated all of its earnings to UNICEF.

2. Holiday lights

Bundle of holiday string lights

Got burnt out holiday lights? The folks at HolidayLEDs.com 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 to be resurrected.

3. Sex toys

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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," according to the aptly titled website, Sex Toy Recycling. Metals, plastics, and other leftovers retire from the pleasure industry and are recycled into conventional products.

4. Hotel soap

Hotel bathroom counter with cups, shampoo, and soap

Not all hotels throw out that half-used soap you left in the shower: Some send 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.

5. Mattresses

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You don't need to dump your old box spring at the landfill. Because they're 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 could become a cute sundress or even wallpaper.

6. Cooking oil

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When you’re finished making French fries at home, it can be tempting to toss the spent frying oil down the drain. But you shouldn’t—nearly half of all sewer overflows are caused by fat and oil. There are a few curbside programs in the United States that accept used cooking oil, which may send the oil to a biodiesel plant that will transform it into fuel. To see if there’s a collection point near you, use this online tool.

7. Dirty diapers

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The average baby soils 6000 diapers before being potty trained—that's one ton of diapers rotting in a landfill per child. But not all poo-packages have to 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, which is compressed into pellets and recycled into roof shingles. Meanwhile, paper pulp in diapers grows up to become wallpaper and shoe soles.

8. CDs

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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 will be later melted down into a plastic perfect for automotive and building materials—even pavement!

9. Shoes

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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. 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.

10. Animal poop

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Why turn animal poop into fertilizer, manure, or trash when you can make it into a greeting card? Or a bouquet of arficial flowers? The folks at Poopoo Paper do that, plus more—they can transform the poop of a wide variety of animals (cows, horses, elephants, and more) into cards, bookmarks, keychains, magnets, jewelry and more!

11. Trophies

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Is your room full of plastic bowling trophies from fifth grade? If the thrill of victory fades, you can recycle your old trophies at recycling centers like Lamb Awards. They'll break down your retired awards, melting them down or reusing them for new trophies.

12. Human fat (warning; illegal) 

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If it weren't for legal complications, America's obsession with cosmetic surgery 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. Aluminum foil

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Foil is probably one of the most thrown away recyclable materials out there. (Americans throw away about 1.5 million tons of aluminum products every year, according to the EPA.) But foil is 100 percent aluminum, and as long as you thoroughly clean it of any food waste, you technically should be able to recycle it with your aluminum cans (but first check with your local recycling plant to ensure they’re equipped to process it; some aren’t).

14. Crayons

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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 more than 120,000 pounds of crayons.

15. Dead pets

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When Fluffy bites the dust in Germany, you can memorialize your beloved pet by recycling her. 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 such as lip balm.

16. Shingles

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The EPA estimates that 11 million tons of shingles are disposed each year [PDF]. Most of them are made out of asphalt, which is why more than two dozen states pulverize the old shingles and recycle them into pavement. For every ton of shingles recycled, we save one barrel of oil.

17. Prescription drugs

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You can—and should—properly dispose of 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 passed away. These drugs are shipped overseas and distributed to HIV victims around the world.

18. Fishing line

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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

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Your recycling center probably doesn't accept wine corks, but companies like Terracycle and Yemm & 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

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Most pantyhose are made of nylon, a recyclable thermoplastic that takes more than 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.

21. Toothbrushes

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If you buy a plastic toothbrush from Preserve (which makes its toothbrushes from old Stonyfield Farms yogurt cups and other everyday items), it will take back your used toothbrush and give it a new life—this time as a piece of plastic lumber!

22. Tennis balls

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The company reBounces doesn’t really recycle tennis balls, it resurrects them. If you’ve got at least 200 balls sitting around, the company will send you a prepaid shipping label to help get the box on the road and repressurize the balls.

23. Yoga mats

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Most yoga mats are made from PVC, the same material in plumbing pipes, heavy-duty tarps, and rain boots. While many local yoga studios will accept well-loved mats and find them a new home, the company Sanuk has an appropriately squishy vision for each mat’s future: It will transform your old yoga mat into flip flops.

24. Defunct currency

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All governments have a way of dealing with old, worn money. (In 2016, the Indian government shredded old bills and turned them into hardboard.) But what about currency that is no longer legal tender? It turns out you can donate your old French francs, Spanish pesetas, or Dutch guilders to Parkinsons UK, who will recycle the old coins and banknotes.

25. Pet fur

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All of the pet fur on your sweaters, your couches, and your carpet could help save the ocean from oil spills. Hair is excellent at sopping up oil from the environment (hairball booms were used to soak up oil from the 2010 BP Oil Spill), so non-profit organizations such as the San Francisco-based Matter of Trust will accept pet fur to make oil-absorbing mats of Fido's fuzz.

This piece was updated for 2019.

Eco-Friendly, Reusable Deodorant Containers Are Good for the Earth and Your Pits

Myro
Myro

A fair amount of plastic goes into keeping your armpits smelling fresh. Few of us recycle our empty deodorant tube after swiping on that last layer, after all. In many cases, it’s not even clear if you can, though there are a few special recycling programs that make it possible. But one company aims to make it easier to both smell clean and keep the planet clean.

Myro deodorant comes in refillable, reusable packaging, as Design Milk reports. The essential-oil-based deodorant comes in pods that you can pop into colorful reusable canisters. Created by the award-winning industrial designers at the New York studio Visibility, the fashionable containers are also made with 50 percent less plastic than most drugstore deodorant sticks, according to the company.

The deodorant sticks aren’t fundamentally different than something you might pick up at the drug store, even if they would look more at home on the shelves at Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie than CVS. You use a dial at the bottom of the tube to advance the deodorant stick, and when you reach the end of the deodorant, the pod that held the formula pops out. You can then refill it with one of Myro’s replacement pods. If your container needs a deep clean, you can stick it in the top rack of your dishwasher.

A red-orange deodorant canister next to a Myro refill pod
Myro

The deodorant itself doesn’t use the standard aluminum or baking powder formula, instead employing an antimicrobial agent made from sugar to reduce smells and barley powder to absorb moisture.

Myro deodorant comes in five different scents that you can mix and match with five different packaging colors. There’s Solar Flare, a mix of orange, juniper, and sunflower; Big Dipper, a blend of bergamot, lavender, and vetiver; Cabin No. 5, which smells like vetiver, patchouli, and geranium; Pillow Talk, made with violet leaf, ylang ylang, wild amyris; and Chill Wave, a blend of cucumber, jasmine, and spearmint.

One Myro deodorant, including the refillable container, costs $10 and can either be bought one at a time or through a subscription that ships refills every three, four, or six months. The refills can also be purchased one at a time. Customers that subscribe will receive free shipping, while one-time purchases will include a $5 shipping fee. You can pause your subscription or switch scents at any time.

Check it out here.

[h/t Design Milk]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws
Kickstarter

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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