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Sustainability

Five on Friday: 5 unusual things you can recycle

In our last installment of Five on Friday (at least for now), CNA looks at five things you probably didn’t know could be recycled. 

Five on Friday: 5 unusual things you can recycle

Ever thought of recycling dirty diapers or used chopsticks? (Photos: Instagram/chopvalue_sg, recycleballs, iStock)

SINGAPORE: Reduce, reuse, recycle - from plastic and paper to glass, we know very well by now how important it is to live a little greener

And while many of us are familiar with common items that could be given a new lease of life, advancements in technology have opened up the recycling field to many more unconventional materials.

Here are five less than usual things that don’t necessarily have to be thrown away:

DIRTY DIAPERS

Yes, you read that right. Even soiled disposable diapers can be recycled and broken down into pulp and plastic components. 

The recovered plastic is compressed into small pellets for reuse and can be crafted into moulded items such as dustbins or containers.

Paper products such as cardboard packaging, insulation materials, pet bedding and pet litter can also be made from the recovered wood pulp - the bit that gets soiled.

I know you’re sceptical – how is this done and is there any way to fully clean a dirty diaper?

Established in Canada, Knowaste is the proprietor of patented technologies for the recycling of pre- and post-consumer absorbent hygiene products. This includes disposable baby diapers, incontinence items and feminine hygiene pads.

The company uses a multi-step method with repeated sanitising and screening. Used disposable diapers are first shredded before the waste is taken through a “jet cooker process” for sterilisation. Plastic materials are then removed and sent for separate processing.

These plastics are eventually filtered and cleaned again before they are turned into pellets. 

The leftover diaper parts are screened again to capture any remaining traces of plastic and organic material, said Knowaste. The fibres are then washed and cleaned once more before the raw material is ready for resale. 

About 626kg of cardon dioxide is saved for every ton of absorbent hygiene product waste processed with its technology, according to the Knowaste website.

“For a typical 36,000 tons per annum plant, that is equivalent to taking 7,500 cars off the roads, the total carbon dioxide emissions of 2,000 people, and saving over 32 Olympic sized pools or 80,000 cubic meters of waste heading to disposal each year,” said the company. 

CIGARETTE BUTTS

This cigarette butt recycling initiative aims to stub out both litter and wastefulness. 

US-based recycling business TerraCycle, who says cigarettes are the most littered item in the world, first sanitises the waste with gamma radiation before separating it by material type. 

Paper goes on to be recycled while the tobacco is composted. The plastic from cigarette filters is also turned into pellets that later go on to form the building blocks of everyday products such as outdoor furniture, watering cans, storage containers and playground surface covers.

That’s right, cigarette butts contain plastic and often find their way into ocean, polluting the environment and endangering wildlife. 

Those in the US who are interested in TerraCycle’s cigarette waste recycling programme can mail in their cigarette butts at no cost, after downloading and printing a prepaid shipping label. 

Do’s and don’ts? Cigarettes should be packed in sturdy plastic containers or bags prior to being boxed for shipping. And of course, make sure they are fully extinguished.

Rolling paper, outer plastic and inner foil packaging and loose tobacco pouches are also accepted. 

Since the programme’s establishment in 2012, Terracycle said it has recycled more than 200 million cigarette butts as of 2022. Up next, a target to collect 500 million butts by 2025. 

TENNIS BALLS

RecycleBalls, a non-profit organisation in the United States, aims to give worn and discarded tennis balls a second life, with some returning to tennis courts. 

About 125 million used tennis balls wind up in US landfills every year, according to the RecycleBalls website, adding that this amounts to 20,000 metric tons of methane-producing, almost non-decomposable rubber waste. 

“Tennis balls take 400 years to decompose (and) is one of the most wasteful, environmentally damaging sports,” said the non-profit.

How does it work? Used tennis balls are gathered via a network of courtside collection bins. They are then shipped to the RecycleBalls facility in Vermont where they are ground up to separate the felt from the rubber. 

This rubber crumb, dubbled “green gold”, is used in the construction of tennis courts. 

Up to 10,000 recycled tennis balls are used for each court, said RecycleBalls, adding that such courts have better shock-absorption qualities. 

RecycleBalls also turns the rubber crumb into horse footing. This material, used in equestrian arenas, is said to be softer on the horses’ hooves, keeps dust down and makes for a smoother ride. 

The balls that escape the grinding process are sold as “no trash” dog balls, and are recyclable free of charge. 

DISPOSABLE CHOPSTICKS

I’m sure many of us are guilty of using dozens of disposable chopsticks every year.

Although they are cheap and readily available, it is an unsustainable habit that creates a lot of avoidable waste.  

Founder of ChopValue Singapore, Evelyn Hew is seeking to change this - one piece of upcycled furniture at a time.

Helming this new franchise in Singapore since April 2021, the 37-year-old entrepreneur imported this sustainable business all the way from Vancouver, Canada.

Each month, Hew and her team gather about 500,000 pairs of chopsticks from more than 100 restaurants and three hospitals. 

These rescued chopsticks are taken to a small factory where they are coated in a toxin-free resin, then baked at 200 degrees Celsius for disinfection. Finally, they are compressed into dense tiles and ready for use. The upcycling processes uses minimal water, no toxins and results in less carbon emissions, said Hew. 

The result? Stylish, minimalist furniture such as dining tables, office desks and home goods like shelving, phone stands, cheese boards and coasters. A single coaster uses as many as 76 chopsticks. 

Hew told CNA earlier this year that her team has since salvaged and upcycled 1.2 million pairs of chopsticks, saving them from the incinerator. 

“We cut down bamboo, birch and pine to make them, fly them 3,000 to 5,000km from China to Singapore, and just use them for 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t you feel it’s a huge waste?” 

FOOD WASTE

What if food waste could be transformed into a powerful yet gentle antimicrobial solution that guards against viruses like COVID-19?

You’ll never look at cashew nut shells, soya beans and crab shells the same way again. 

In early 2020, when the coronavirus was spreading fast in Wuhan, Didi Gan sought to find a balance between the necessity of using healthcare products like face masks and disinfectants while still being mindful of the ecosystem

This led to her establishing N&E Innovations where she launched what is touted as the first all-natural N95 mask, the three-layer reusable Vi-MASK.

It contains VIKANG99, an edible and non-toxic coating developed by Gan. 

The mask, which complies with EU requirements for medical face coverings, is said to protect against 99 per cent of viruses and bacteria for up to 30 washes. 

Gan told CNA that she discovered that cashew nut waste, food-grade iron from soya beans, and chitosan from crab shells can offer some protection against bacteria and viruses responsible for several diseases including COVID-19, influenza, as well as hand foot and mouth disease.

Gan has since sold about 400,000 masks, resulting in the upcycling of more than a tonne of cashew nut waste. She buys this waste from Intersnack, a cashew nut processing company. 

“Intersnack produces 100,000 metric tonnes of cashew nuts each year, which generates 2,500 metric tonnes of waste. This would otherwise end up in landfills or be incinerated. Why not use it to make something powerful against COVID-19?”

The iron from soya beans and chitosan from crab shells are sourced from China.

Source: CNA/zl(ta)

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