Break down the numbers when it comes to household waste. There was over 294 tons of waste generated in the U.S. during 2018. Of that, about 94 million tons were recycled correctly or composted. That’s about 32% of all waste is recycled. Many states want to improve recycling rates. It often means coming up with inventive ways to reuse recycled materials.

Residential recycling includes glass and plastic items. Some metals, such as soup or soda cans, can also be recycled. Items like styrofoam packing materials, plastic bags, and tires are harder to recycle. Here are some of the ways they’re being turned into new, innovative things.

Automotive Parts

Many auto manufacturers are using recycled materials in their parts now. Ford uses powdered coconut fiber as filler in their bins, load floor, door cladding, and structural guards. Lincoln uses waste cellulose fibers to make armrests. Hyundai made their veneers from the scrap bark of cork oaks.

Board Games

A circular economy wants consumers to think about their purchases carefully. You recycle materials, but you also make sure you buy items made with recycled materials. One of the most popular board games is now available in a Go Green edition.

Monopoly has been a favorite family board game for decades. Go Green Monopoly’s instructions, board, money, money tray, and action cards are all made from 100% recycled paper. The tokens, dice, and houses are made from sugarcane or FSC-certified wood. While the street names are the same, players get higher rents by making their properties more efficient or environmentally friendly by purchasing things like wind farms and solar fields.


Some of the neatest carpeting available is made from recycled plastic bags. It’s woven into rugs that are durable and completely waterproof. This makes these rugs great for outdoor porches and decks. Add a splash of color without having an outdoor carpet that will rot when it gets wet.

Mohawk Flooring’s Everstrand uses recycled PET fibers. It’s an indoor carpet that is hard to stain and easier to keep clean. If you need indoor carpeting and want to stick with recycled materials, Everstrand is a good choice.


So many clothing manufacturers are starting to incorporate recycled plastic into their clothing. Plastic is melted and spun into a thread that’s woven into a lightweight, water-resistant fabric.

Patagonia began making clothes from recycled plastic bottles in the 1990s. It’s a growing trend. You’ll find there are winter jackets filled with recycled plastic. Nike came out with a line of underwear made from recycled plastics.

In addition to making clothing from recycled plastic, some companies now have take-back programs to reward shoppers who recycle their unwanted clothing. You can bring your clothing to stores like H&M or The North Face and get a discount on your purchase when you recycle.

An Entire Hospital Ward

Many things can be created from recycled materials. A hospital ward in Taipei proved this by using nothing but recycled materials. The wall panels contain recycled aluminum. The ward’s architect turned recycled rice husks and recycled DVDs to make the ceiling tiles. Recycled polyester became the ward’s insulation, and other components like doorknobs and coat hooks were made from recycled medical waste.

Insulation Blocks

For some, turning styrofoam into insulation blocks is a DIY project, but some companies make a living turning styrofoam into insulation. Grace Canada teamed up with Walmart in 2009 to collect styrofoam waste. The styrofoam is converted into a fire-resistant insulation product for commercial use.

If you want to insulate an area of your attic or basement, measure the places where you need the insulation. You want to create bricks that fit those spaces. Find a box with the same measurements and line it with brown wax paper. Break up the styrofoam into small pieces. Create an inch-thick layer of styrofoam within the box. Spray that layer with expanding fire retardant foam. Add a second layer of styrofoam and spray that with expanding foam. Let those two layers sit overnight to harden.

LEGOs and Other Toys

Several toy companies are embracing recycled plastics. Barbie is one brand moving to 90% recycled plastic, but LEGO is getting a lot of praise for their move. All LEGO bricks will be made from sustainable materials starting in 2030. The company’s biggest hurdle right now has been adding color to the materials used to make LEGO bricks.


One of the more popular items for sustainability has been lumber made from recycled plastic film and bottles and wood pulp. Composite decking is non-slip and is less likely to rot or warp. There is also PVC decking made entirely from plastic. Because PVC decking is entirely plastic, it doesn’t rot or splinter.

Olympic Medals

Recycled metals from electronic devices were used to make the Olympic Medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The metal harvested from devices like smartphones and computers was melted down and turned into the medals handed out to athletes.


Back in the 1960s, the industry started testing the use of ground tires in asphalt. It’s been used in Arizona for decades. It became a requirement for states to mix some crumb rubber into asphalt starting in 1994, but the rule ended a year later.

Even though states are not required to use the crumb rubber in their asphalt, some do it anyway. States that have tested asphalt rubber have had great success. In New Jersey, rubber pavement was durable and reduced noise, plus it cost less. Phoenix tested the noise reduction and found rubber asphalt was 10 decibels lower.

There have also been cities testing the use of crushed glass particles in asphalt. Montreal paved sections of road with a mix of asphalt and glass particles. Pavement engineers found that a 10% crushed glass mix worked well to handle temperature changes and water.

A newer project took place in California. A liquid plastic binder was created from recycled plastic bottles and mixed into the old asphalt torn up in a repaving project. Both the asphalt and plastic bottles were recycled at the same time. The test didn’t go as well as hoped as the asphalt shifted when people drove on it, but they’re testing different mixtures and thicknesses to find the recipe that works.


Many popular shoe manufacturers make shoes from recycled ocean plastics. Adidas is one of them. Parley Ocean Plastic shoes are made from plastics collected from the ocean, and they’re comfortable, waterproof, and supportive. Shoppers feel good wearing them because it’s part of the circular economy.


In 2020, a group of students in the Netherlands built a car made out of recycled plastics and household waste. The students recycled batteries from other vehicles, PET plastic bottles, and spent flax. Even the seats were made with recycled coconut fibers and horsehair. When tested, the car went up to 137 miles on one charge and reached top speeds of 56 mph.

Here’s a tip. Just because something is hard to recycle, it doesn’t make it impossible to recycle. Find out how to recycle different items by visiting Recycle Nation. Our directory is simple to use. Enter the item and your ZIP code to get the names and addresses of recycling centers near you.