Need Your "Weird Recycling" Stories, Please

We’re working on a Freakonomics Radio episode that will probably be called “Weird Recycling” (or, possibly, “What Do Chicken Paws and Tongue Depressors Have in Common?”). It’s about people who find or create value from things that are typically thought to be worthless (or worse!).

I’d love to gather a few more examples and I can think of no population in the world better suited for this task than the Freakonomics readership.

What say you?

Thanks in advance.

Brandon LaVallee

I get things that are left beside the dumpster from time to time. My bike got stolen, cut from the lock. Then I found an old tossed out beach cruiser, I now take it to work. The best part is that I don't have to lock it, and no one will steal it. The most common thing I have picked up is lamps. That's right, working, different size shape and color.


A few years ago I read about a Swedish company producing soap from used frying oil from fast food restaurants. The restaurants were happy to get rid of their used oil, the city was happy to keep the oil out of the sewage system, and the entrepreneurs were happy to get their raw material for free. I sure hope that their customers were happy too, but I cannot see why not.


Start here . . .


We use plastic water bottles as chew toys for my dog. She takes the caps off herself and never swallows the plastic. Once she is done, the entire bottle goes in to the regular recycling.


I work in the backroom of a thrift store. The things that get donated to be "recycled" are jaw dropping. I've seen, if not accidentally touched, everything from human teeth, dirty diapers, bags of used paper plates and a dead squirrel and piles upon piles of disgustingly well used clothes and kitchen ware, some of it with food still inside. It always amazes me to think that some one thought their trash was worth selling or at least passing on to others. This isn't really about the surprising things you can do with trash but more about the trash that people wish was reusable.


Building houses out of recycled bottles:

Matt C

McMenamins, a Portland (and northwest) chain of breweries and such, uses spent grain from brewing beer in their veggie burger patties.

Spoonman - taking old silverwear, etc. The website doesn't do his work justice:

In general, the concept of rain barrels.


Two good friends collect soft yak wool (which would be discarded otherwise and have been for centuries) from nomadic yak herders in the Himalayas and make beautiful yak wool sweaters out of them:


How about all american/ western toxic and dangerous waste found all over the place in Junkyards in Delhi. Since you are going there you could possibly check the downtrodden as well in the same place..

Matt Gatto

A friend of mine takes the bones of dead pigeons and burns off the flesh with acid and then super glues them together to make creative animal sculptures. Its creepy as hell but really interesting.

Joan Brown

I was/am a special education teacher at a private school for children with developmental disabilities ( now in administration), and we went through lots of paper towels in a week! I also volunteer as a docent at the Philadelphia zoo. My school would collect paper towel tubes, and I would bring two giant bags about every other week to the zoo, where the keepers would use them as 'enrichment' for the animals: i.e.: food such as peanut paste with raisins and cheerios would be smeared inside the tubes and given to the primates, and they would use their digits to scoop out the food, making them 'forage' for food in a way similiar to their non-captive relatives. The kids loved collecting the rolls, counting them, bagging them up for me, and u felt good that less trash was going into a landfill.
Lots of benefits all around, for all kinds of primates!!

Richard Shumann

Not sure if this counts, but the podcast reminded me of a low tech way to extend battery life. I did Peace Corps in Guinea from 1998 to 1990, when people still used cassette tapes. Rewinding them used up a lot of battery power, but this could be avoided by putting a standard Bic pen in ons of the cassette's holes, lifting it up, and spinning. Worked perfectly.

Martin Slater

When I take a shower I use a small plastic pail (cat litter comes in a good one), to collect the water before it gets hot, which I put in my fish tank, or garden.

I save my urine, which contains 18% nitrogen, for the garden.

Andy Whitaker

I know this is too late but I wanted to share some recycling that I've been doing. I just started working on a farm in Vermont that spends this time of year making large quantities of maple syrup. Rather than let all the steam from the boiling sap escape into the atmosphere, we collect it and distill it back to hot water. This hot water serves a surprising number of functions. It is pumped back through the sap waiting its turn to boil, heating it up and increasing the efficiency of the evaporator, we collect it and use it for cleaning in the sugarhouse, we pump it to the greenhouse to keep the greenhouse warm for our vegetable germination, and most importantly we pump it into an old sap tank and use it for a hot tub.

Mo Siakkou-Flodin

Recycling products like, plastic bottles, old used tires, metal tins, all junk, car parts, used to create large outdoor sculpture, made by international working artist Mo and others who like to collaborate...
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