Every waste district in the U.S. has its own policies on what is accepted and what isn’t. Curbside haulers in one town may welcome all plastics while another only takes #1 and #2. Some haulers take away food waste to be composted instead of sent to the landfill, but others want food waste in the trash.
In 2018, households throughout the country generated 292.4 million tons of waste and recyclables. Food waste accounted for almost 22% of that waste. Paper and cardboard made up another 23%. Yard trimmings and plastics each added another 12%. The rest of a household’s waste includes items made of wood, metal, glass, Styrofoam, textiles, rubber, and other inorganic wastes.
Through research and engineering, people are finding new ways to reuse trash and recyclables rather than fill up landfills across the nation. Here are some of the top ways these items are being reused.
An Electric Vehicle Made From Trash and Recyclables
Students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands created a prototype for a car made from recycled materials. Luca is a two-seater made from recycled aluminum, PET plastic, and flax. It’s two motors are powered by electricity generated by a six-module battery.
Luca’s interior “tub” or seating area is made from PET plastics that were harvested mostly from the ocean and strengthened with flax fibers. The sub-frame is made with recycled aluminum and attached to the suspension and tub. The prototype has a range of just over 136 miles and a top speed of just over 55 mph.
Dried Grass Clippings Make Long-Lasting Fireplace Logs
Back in the early-2010s, a scientist found that he could mix grass clippings with wax and oil to compress the mixture into an eco-friendly fireplace log. The addition of wax slowed the amount of time the log burned allowing it to heat for longer.
Using the same process, experts at the USDA are looking to see if there are ways to also turn this mixture into pellets for a pellet stove. It’s also believed that the same mixture could be useful in creating fire starters for outdoor fire pits and campfires. This keeps grass clippings out of the landfill.
Paved Roads Made From Plastic
California is experimenting with the reuse of plastic bottles to reuse asphalt on California’s Highway 162. Special machinery is grinding up three to six inches of the existing asphalt, mixing it with melted recycled plastic, and using that mixture to repave the highway.
The state is starting with a three-mile stretch to see how it goes. Tests have shown that the recycled materials help the asphalt last up to three times longer than traditional asphalt. If successful, highways across the nation could be paved with the plastics people recycle.
Chemical Additives Can Turn Plastic Bags Into Glue
The University of California, Berkeley, found a way to take polyethylene plastic and turn it into a long-lasting adhesive. Polyethylene is the type of plastic commonly used to make plastic shopping bags. The researchers added a chemical group to the polyethylene, which converted it into an adhesive that sticks to many materials including metal and water-based latex paint.
Recycled Plastic Becomes Clothing
Several clothing manufacturers have started turning recycled plastics into threads used to make clothing. Patagonia is one of them. The company found that PET plastic bottles could be blended with other fibers to create a lightweight, quick-drying fleece for its pullovers and winter clothing. Other companies, such as Rothy’s, also use recycled plastics to create lightweight, waterproof shoes.
Because the plastic fibers wear down after repeated washings, special care is needed when cleaning the items. Researchers are looking into ways to get the plastic strands to last longer when washed and dried, but it’s likely that the item will still last longer than it is needed. When it breaks down and can’t be worn, some stores have recycling programs in place where you can send worn clothing to be turned into new fibers.
Recycled Wine Bottles Are Used to Build Bridges
In Montreal, Quebec, Canada, a construction firm is in the process of building a pair of bridges using finely crushed glass from more than 70,000 empty wine bottles. The glass powder is being mixed with cement to help increase the cement’s strength and lifespan. At the same time, it’s helping find a new life for thousands of wine bottles that might otherwise end up in landfills.
One of the things that make these glass bridges stand out is that deicing products used during winter storms will not degrade the glass. Over time, concrete is damaged by salt. This is why it’s expected that these bridges will have a much longer lifespan. The two bridges will connect Nuns’ Island to the rest of Montreal.
Styrofoam Insulation Prevents Drafts and Keep Heat/Cold In
Several companies have started looking at the use of unwanted Styrofoam packaging materials to insulate houses. One Ohio company invested in machines that break up the Styrofoam materials and form them into bricks that are stacked within a home’s exterior walls for insulation that doesn’t break down.
Because Styrofoam is proving to be an excellent insulation material, some curbside programs are starting to accept it. If you can’t recycle it via a curbside program, check to see if your local waste district accepts it.
What Can You Reuse or Upcycle?
When you get items like packaging materials, plastic or glass bottles, etc., you can also do your part by upcycling or reusing. Instead of putting that cardboard box into the recycling, could you use it around your home? If you have children, boxes become excellent building bricks for creating forts. Big boxes can become a cozy hideaway.
Smaller boxes could be painted in a bright color and used to store small items in a cupboard. In a kitchen, you could use a shoebox to store your spices. In the bathroom, a shoebox could store your first aid supplies. If you can’t use them, see if anyone in your community is in need of boxes.
Have you ever heard of lasagna gardening? It’s a garden and compost pile in one. You need plenty of boxes to get started. Lay them out in the size and shape of your garden. Let rain or snow soak them down or use a hose if you live in a drier climate. Onto the initial layer, add mulch, compost, manure, lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, newspaper, and more cardboard. Build up the layers as much as possible and let them break down. In the spring, make sure the top layer is manure and compost. Plant seeds into that top layer. As those layers breakdown and flatten out, add more compost materials and layers to keep it going.
If you’re handy with a sewing machine, cut up old clothing into quilting squares. Many hospitals and hospice facilities welcome donations of quilts to give to patients who are in the ICU or hospice care. You keep the textiles out of the landfill and create something that someone will cherish for the years to come.
Take glass jars you don’t need and add some crushed stone in the bottom. Add potting soil and plant seeds for the herbs you use often. Put the jar on a windowsill and grow your own fresh basil, cilantro, parsley, and rosemary.
How do you get rid of recyclable items that your curbside trash company won’t take? Find where your closest recycling drop-off center is or if any area businesses accept the items you want to recycle. It’s easy. Look up extruded polystyrene or the item you want to get rid of on Recycle Nation Enter your ZIP and press search to find the nearest drop-off location.