Specialized Recyclables…Who Knew?

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(Editor’s Note: This is an article about specialized recycling efforts. None of the items mentioned are recycled by Power Recycling.)

In 1989, Alabama hair stylist Phil McCrory was washing an oily head of hair while watching news footage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Sea otters and other wildlife were covered in oil.

That’s when he had an “aha moment.” Hair collects oil. What if we could use the natural oil-absorbing properties of human hair and pet fur to clean up oil spills?

McCrory experimented at home, using hair stuffed into pantyhose. He quickly realized that his idea was indeed brilliant. Before long, the hair stylist/inventor teamed up with the ecological non-profit Matter of Trust, and the Clean Wave project was born.

Using hair clippings from salons, fur from pet groomers, fleece and feathers from farmers, the project produces two types of products:

  • Recycled fiber mats (known as “hairmats”), which are sent to public works departments for use as filtration systems in storm drains.
  • Sausage-shaped oil containment booms, made from hair stuffed into recycled pantyhose. These are used for emergency cleanup and to “sandbag” and protect coves and beaches.

To date, the Clean Wave project has helped clean up oil spills in the U.S., Korea, France, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon area of South America.

Hair is just one of the specialized recyclables you’ve probably never heard about. Here are a few more:

Dentures for Kids

The Japan Dentures Recycling Association wants your old false teeth. The non-profit collects dentures in order to reclaim the precious metals inside, such as gold and silver. All of the proceeds are donated to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The association depends on the contributions of people like Isao Miyoshi, who operates a dental laboratory in Japan. According to Miyoshi, clasps and other metals used to stabilize dentures are often alloys of gold, silver and palladium. Five grams of these alloys are worth around $20 once they’re separated from the dentures.

“People on average get new dentures every three years, because the condition of their teeth changes,” Miyoshi said.

“Most people don’t know what to do with [their old dentures] and they end up keeping them in a drawer. That’s really a waste of something useful. “ 

“Once the new ones are made, dentists usually give the old ones back to the patients. But most people don’t know what to do with them and they end up keeping them in a drawer. That’s really a waste of something useful. In our lab, we make about 30 new dentures a day, that means 30 more are thrown away.”

To date, the Japan Dentures Recycling Association has raised more than $250,000 for UNICEF.  To donate your old dentures, click here.

Chew on This

British designer Anna Bullus is on a mission to clean up the streets. Disgusted by the amount of chewing gum litter found in public places in the UK, she decided to take action. Which is why Bullus founded Gumdrop Ltd in 2009.  It’s the first company in the world to recycle and process chewing gum into a range of new compounds. Compounds that can be used by manufacturers in the rubber and plastics industries.


The core of Bullus’ company is the Gumdrop bins:  bright pink, bubble-shaped bins specifically designed for chewing gum disposal. The bins are strategically placed in high-traffic public areas. Once the bin is full, it’s taken to a recycling plant.

That’s because, as it turns out, used chewing gum is incredibly useful as recyclables go. Composed primarily of synthetic rubber, the gum can be recycled into tires, toys, shoes, cups and a host of other products. (For instance, the Gumdrop bins themselves are made from recycled chewing gum.)

England’s Heathrow Airport and Great Western Railway have already installed the bins and have plans to expand the program. Across the Atlantic, Gumdrop has also caught the eye of chewing gum giant Wrigley.

According to Wrigley spokesman Alex Hunter-Dunn, “Gumdrop is a really creative and innovative way to get people responsibly disposing of their gum and binning it. We fundamentally believe that behavior change is the only long-term sustainable solution to tackle the issue and we are very much behind that.”

Giving an Arm and a Leg

Prosthetic limbs cannot be reused in the United States, due to legal considerations. But they can be disassembled and shipped to Third World countries for use by landmine victims and other individuals in need.

For instance, Standing with Hope was founded by a double amputee and her husband, who were inspired by Princess Diana’s work with landmine victims.

Labor for their operation is provided by inmates at a Nashville, Tenn., prison. Every year these inmates disassemble and ship about 500 limbs to Ghana. Once the limbs are received, local technicians trained by the organization reassemble the components to create a custom fit for waiting patients — for free.

Other organizations are also stepping up to fill the need for these recyclables, including Physicians for Peace, Limbs for Life, and Range of Motion Project. For the complete list of U.S.-based groups that accept used prosthetic limbs, visit the Amputee Coalition of America website.

Holy Crap!

Rounding out our list of unusual recyclables…

Did you know that about 20 billion disposable diapers end up in U.S. landfills each year? And each diaper takes about 500 years to decompose?

But it doesn’t have to be like that. TerraCycle, a Trenton-based company known for its innovative recycling solutions, just may have the answer. Take a look:


The Balance

Matter of Trust

Japan Times


ABC News

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