Around the world, people are finding creative ways to recycle waste in order to create new products, conserve precious resources, and even construct buildings and habitats.
Here is a look at some of the more innovative and unusual examples of recycling and reuse in recent years.
Toilet paper made out of milk
The German textile company Qmilk and the Italian paper products firm Lucart have teamed up to create a new and surprising kind of toilet paper made from waste milk. Appropriately, it’s being marketed in Italy as “Carezza di Latte” (Italian for “milk carress”).
Qmilk was founded when microbiologist Anke Domaske was looking for clothing that hadn’t been treated with chemicals, a common practice in the textile industry. Her stepfather had been diagnosed with cancer, and she needed something that wouldn’t harm his fragile immune system. Her solution was unexpected: sour milk.
When milk goes rancid, it separates into whey and a solid substance. This substance can be dried into a powder, and with the addition of water, it forms a dough. Qmilk’s machines turn this dough into thin fibers that other companies (in this case, Lucart) can use to make products such as fabric, paper, or yarn.
Notably, QMilk has not only created a new way to make everyday items. The company has found a valuable new use for milk waste and an additional income stream for dairy farmers. Every year, Germany throws away about 2 million tonnes of milk—not because it has gone rancid, but because it has some flaw that prevents it from being sold, such as a sick cow. Qmilk makes use of this waste milk, paying farmers about 4 cents per liter for it. Otherwise, they’d receive nothing.
New reefs made from old oyster shells
Restaurants along Alabama’s coast serve oysters from the Gulf of Mexico every day, generating piles of shells left over at the end of diners’ meals. Often, these shells are simply tossed in the trash and meet their ultimate fate in a landfill. However, a new program spearheaded by the Alabama Coastal Foundation is working with local restaurants to find a new purpose for the discarded shells: as new underwater reefs.
For 100 years, people have been harvesting oysters from Alabama’s Mobile Bay. As a result, the reefs that these oysters cling to have slowly eroded over time, threatening the lucrative harvest. The foundation’s program will return the old shells to the bay, so that the baby oysters can latch on to them and grow. Three times a week a truck will visit participating restaurants to pick up special bins filled with around 750 discarded shells. Workers collect these shells in piles to “season” for six months on property owned by the state. Then, they’ll dump the shells on the reefs, where they’ll provide a critical habitat and hopefully stem the tide of erosion.
Beer brewed with wastewater
California’s recent severe drought has prompted many people in the state to rethink how they use water—in some cases, drastically so. That’s evident at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, a small craft microbrewery located a few miles south of San Francisco. Nearly three years ago, the brewery’s owner, Lenny Mendonca, was approached by architect Russ Drinker, a man keenly interested in reusing and recycling water. Drinker suggested the idea of brewing beer with recycled greywater—wastewater from sinks, showers, and laundry machines that has been treated and purified.
Employing technology similar to that used by NASA on the International Space Station, Mendonca’s brewery used recycled greywater to produce its Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA. The beer cannot be sold commercially due to state laws preventing recycled water from being used for drinking purposes. However, at the 2015 Meeting of the Minds sustainability conference in Richmond, California, the brewery tested the beer on a blind tasting panel. Two of the judges on the five-person panel couldn’t tell the difference, and one of the judges who accurately identified the beer made with recycled water said she preferred it over the competition because it was less bitter. Others in the audience at the event appreciated the taste, too.
Beer-bottle Buddhist temple
Alternative building materials are popular these days—witness the increased interest in shipping container homes, for example.
The Buddhist monks at Wat Pa Maha Kaew Temple in northeast Thailand are perhaps unlikely devotees of this movement. They built their temple using around 1.5 million green Heineken and brown Chang Beer bottles. The process of building the temple was a long one. The monks began collecting bottles in the 1980s and also asked local officials to donate them.
In all, they’ve constructed a 20-building complex, which includes a main temple, bungalows for the monks’ bedrooms, a crematorium, water tower, prayer room, and bathrooms for tourists. Bottlecaps were even used to create the mosaics of the Buddha that adorn the temple. Fittingly, Wat Pa Maha Kaew is also known by its nickname: the Temple of a Million Bottles.