Weird Places Your Old Crap Ended Up
If there's one thing humans are good at, it's generating trash. In the United States alone, humans throw away an estimated 267.8 million tons of stuff every single year. That works out to a whopping four and a half pounds of trash per person, per day. While we're doing a bang-up job of chucking stuff in the can, we probably don't think too long or hard about what happens to all that junk we recycle or throw away. Some of it, obviously, ends up in the ground. But some of our trash goes on to an awesomely bizarre post-consumer afterlife. Such as ...
Your Old Cell Phone Could End Up Around the Neck of an Olympic Medalist
Due to ... reasons ... we're currently planning to hold the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July 2021. And while we agree that postponing the games was absolutely the right decision, we do have lots of questions. Will it be safe? Will it still be the 2020 Olympics if it's 2021? Why are all the winning athletes wearing discarded cell phones around their necks instead of traditional medals? Wait -- what?
That's right. If you lived in Japan (or just discarded a cell phone there) in 2019, there's an excellent chance it was melted down to make medals for the
2020 2021 next Olympics. To make the games more sustainable, some 78,985 tons of discarded electronic devices were collected, classified, dismantled, and melted down to create the 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze awards that will (eventually) adorn the necks of Olympians. And it wasn't just phones that got in on the action. The program also dismantled digital cameras, handheld games, and laptops to reach their materials target, which was a cool 71 pounds of gold, 7,700 pounds of silver, and 4,850 pounds of bronze. And no, we didn't leave off zeros. Olympic gold medals are actually made from silver and plated with gold. (We'd just use chocolate centers, but what do we know?)
Now before you get all depressed that you didn't throw away a cell phone in Japan, chin up! Even though the athletes won't be wearing your discarded electronics around their necks, there's a chance your trash could end up under their feet. For the first time, the Tokyo Olympics will have medal podiums made entirely of plastic. Program organizers amassed 45 tons of plastic, both from recycled items and plastic ocean waste, and used it to create the 100 podiums needed for the games. Here's hoping they don't end up right back in the trash at the end of the games.
A College Student Might Graduate Wearing Your Old Water Bottle, and You Could Easily Be Wearing Someone's Milk Jug Right Now
Back in 1976, the average American consumed a gallon and a half of bottled water every year. By 2016, that average had ballooned to 39.3 gallons of bottled water per year, with bottled water surpassing soft drinks as the most consumed beverage in the United States. Despite the fact that the stuff comes out of a tap for (mostly) free, 15% of Americans say that bottled water is the only type of water they drink. And that many bottles water means a lot of empties head for landfills since only three out of every 10 water bottles get recycled or reused in some way. But hey! In the interest of being bottle-half-full kinda people, let's take a look at where the bottles that do get recycled finally end up. Here's a hint: you might be wearing one right now.
In a nutshell, a lot of recycled bottles end up as clothing. But since walking around draped in old plastic water bottles would get some weird looks, they require a bit of processing for you to wear them. The first stop for your recycled bottle is getting shredded into plastic flakes, which a company buys and pulverizes into tiny plastic pellets. Those pellets are then "melted, extruded and spun into polyester yarn," which is used on its own or mixed with other yarns to make fabric.
And that yarn doesn't just become some bizarre, one-off costume you'd expect to see on Bjork or Lady Gaga. In fact, its uses are surprisingly mainstream. In 2016, an estimated 400,000 college students wore graduation gowns made entirely of recycled water bottles. Notable brands like Patagonia, Adidas, Levi's, and Nike use recycled materials in their garments, and Ford uses it for vehicle upholstery. But a growing number of "budget" brands are using recycled plastic yarn, as well. Target's children's brand Cat & Jack has begun using recycled polyester in kids' clothes, and if you're a fan of wearing sweats, both Hanes and Champion offer a variety of items made, in part, from old water bottles. Maybe yours.
Nobody Wants Our Used Clothes Anymore So It Might Become Insulation
Whether you're going full-on Marie Kondo, embracing minimalist living, or just trying to remember what your closet floor looks like, one thing is sure: there's never been a more popular time to get rid of unwanted clothes. And for those of us who struggle to get rid of anything even marginally wearable ("JNCOs could totally make a comeback!"), the idea of donating clothing to the needy, thereby giving items a higher purpose, makes the letting-go process less painful. But what happens to the things we've thanked for their service and tossed in a donation bin? Well ... probably not what you think.
The fact is, the vast majority of donated clothing ends up in a landfill. Clothes and shoes are one of the fastest-growing categories of landfill trash, and an estimated 24 billion pounds are thrown out every single year. Why is this happening? First of all, with everybody getting rid of stuff, donations are at an all-time high, so there's a ton of second-hand clothing to be had. Second, a lot of junk that's donated can't be sold, due to things like stains, broken zippers, mummy curse, etc.. But the main problem is that brand-new clothing has become so affordable that the market for used stuff has decreased. Sure, people still go for used brand name items or luxury goods, but for every day, "normal" things, most people will spend a bit more to buy new.
In the end, about 80% of clothing donated to charities is resold, then either shipped overseas or recycled into other items. Take denim, for example. One organization gathers cast-off jeans (or jackets, shirts, skirts, etc.) from a variety of sources and transforms them into construction insulation. And it's not some specialty, hard-to-find option for people wanting to go green. Sold under the brand name "UltraTouch," it's widely available at chains like Home Depot and Lowe's. In other words, if you've donated jeans, there's a chance they could be living inside the wall of someone's house right now Parasite-style.
But what about clothes that aren't made of denim? While the process is much more difficult, there's hope for non-denim items as well. Some organizations collect mass quantities of old clothing and fabric and process it for use as stuffing or filling or shred it into fibers, which get made into new yarn. And, of course, there's always a chance you could recognize a piece of your old clothing on Etsy, reinvented as a basket, or a rug, or a stuffed owl, or a face mask, or a ...
The World's Discarded Toothbrushes All Retire to Tropical Island Paradises
We all have our own idea of what constitutes "paradise." A beautiful sunset. Cuddling with your significant other. A fully-stocked toilet paper aisle. But we're guessing that for most people, "paradise" means an island paradise -- a tropical beach somewhere remote and quiet and beautiful. Aside from the lucky assholes who get to live in such locations, mere mortals like us are pretty much limited to visiting them on said assholes' Instagram. But while living on an island paradise might not be a realistic dream for the future, there's an excellent chance something you've owned is already living on one.
If we followed the advice of the American Dental Association and chucked our toothbrushes every four months, over a billion would be thrown away every year in the United States alone. If everyone in the world took this advice, we'd be looking at 23 billion toothbrushes getting tossed in the trash every single year. Suffice it to say, there are very literally tons upon tons of old, discarded toothbrushes loose in the world today, and like most other types of plastic, they eventually end up in the ocean. And once they're there, it's just a matter of time till they find a nice beach to retire on.
A major study looked at the Cocos Keeling Islands (CKI), which are located way, way, off the coast of Australia. We'd never heard of them, but that's kinda the point. They're so remote, and the population is so small that they really shouldn't be plagued by plastic pollution. Yeah, no. Almost unfathomably, researchers found that the beaches of CKI were home to some 373,000 discarded toothbrushes -- more than the local population could generate in 4,000 years. But it's not just remote islands plagued with toothbrush trash. On the Hawaiian islands, a single beach cleanup will turn up anywhere from 20 to 100 toothbrushes, probably the less-adventurous types that prefer domestic travel. Regardless, maybe take some steps to make sure your old toothbrush isn't spending more time on a beach than you are?
There's a Decent Chance Your Favorite Sex Toy (Or Anything Else You Have That's Silicone) Contains Repurposed Parts from Someone's Old Vibrator
50 years ago, back before we realized all the ways it's terrible, pretty much everyone thought plastic was the coolest thing since sliced bread. And while we might develop a similar hatred for silicone once the honeymoon is over, it's all the rage right now. It's in our cooking utensils, keyboards, cars ... and sex toys. Granted, it's different strokes for different folks, but the odds are excellent that the contents of your thirst drawer are mostly made of silicone. Specifically ... recycled silicone.
Now, if you chuck your old sex toys in the garbage can, they'll end up in a landfill. There's no dildo angel that sorts through bags of trash, retrieves tossed sex toys, and magically gives them new life. But the silicone toys in your current arsenal could easily be made of someone else's old vibrator. Or butt plug. Or fleshlight. See, sex toys are recyclable, and several places happily take old joy toys and see that their parts are reused. The silicone, in particular, is stripped off, thoroughly cleaned (hopefully), and made into new silicone products ... of all types. In theory, your silicone spatula could be made from someone else's recycled dong parts along with your current rabbit, or anything else silicone you have lying around.
On the flip side, if you've ever recycled one of your own toys through programs like ScarletGirl or LoveHoney, there's no telling what sort of fun your old pocket rocket has been having since you two broke up. It could be part of an airplane right now. Or a component of a ventilator. Or in your grandma's silicone baking cups. Or, most likely, it was melted down along with parts of other old vibrators to create a brand new silicone fuck stick for a stranger to enjoy.
Top image:F Delventhal/Flickr