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Recycling Waste Products into Valuable Materials – Part 1


Silver coins

Pondering about what to do with all that old motor oil you can accumulated in your garage? How about dealing with the mounting pile of expanded polystyrene (EPS) boxes? This article has the information you need.

Tyre (tire) Recycling.

With the billions of vehicles used worldwide come the issue with used tyres (amongst the other components used for cars).  The ‘rubber’ (which is generally petreoleum-based/synthetic) would previously be stockpiled and subsequently burnt as part of its disposal. However, the pollution associated with this practice has led to crackdown on it.

Times have changed considerably and there is a lot more creativity behind giving these well-travelled old wheels a new life. Products such as shipping pallets, rubber-modified ashphalt, eco-friendly building blocks, through to utilising used tyres as a source of energy.  This last point should be considered with caution, considering the plethora of toxic substances such as Benzene, Hexavalent Chromium and dioxins that are released from incinceration. Any plans to utilise tyres as fuel should be subject to strict regulations.

Above all, it is best to reuse tyres by retreading them, prior to disposal. The US EPA has produced an FAQ document that provides additional information about managing old tyres/recycling.

Motor oil

Similar to the aforementioned issues with tyres, illegal dumping and disposal of motor oil also leads to ecological problems, especially a potential to contaminate surface water and groundwater (particularly the former), in conjunction with soil.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has raised awareness to the nation by promoting its “You dump it, you drink it” campaign, highlighting the concerns of petrochemical contamination in drinking water. This publication is released in both English and Spanish.

In my homeland, Australia, a Product Stewardship Levy (excise) has been incorporated into the the costs of petroleum-based oil producers and importers, to assist funding oil recycling schemes. As of 1 July 2014, the levy stands at AU$0.085 per Litre of oil (or kilogram of grease).

The largest state in Australia, New South Wales (NSW), runs the Household Chemical CleanOut Program, overseen by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (NSW EPA). According to its latest report, over 1,600,000 kg of hazardous substances (including 147, 426 kilograms of oils) were collected in 2013-14.

Cooking oil

Similar to motor oil, it should (ideally) be collected at desginated drop-off points for refining and subsequent use into new products.

There is a growing trend in DIY setups to refine used cooking oil for subsequent use in a vehicle (i.e. biodiesel as an alternative to diesel fuel). Further infromation about producing biodiesel is available here.


Notwithstanding their small size, corks can readily reused to produce baskets (or anything the mind can imagine). Other than direct reuse (without the need to macerate the wine corks to produce new products), there are numerous products such as cork (bulletin) boards, drink coasters, chairs and yoga boards (as produced by ReCORK, shown below).

With over 15 billion cork (stoppers) used for glass bottles, people often disregard the former and just recycle the latter.

Recycled cork yoga block

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) / Styrofoam(TM)

This ‘plastic’ has been an ongoing issue in the waste management sector for decades. This is chiefly due to the relative lack of recycling options (EPS is seldom accepted in municipal recycling schemes).

In all fairness, the convenient, ultra-lightweight material is highly favoured by many for distributing goods (especially in a cool environment) such as food and drinks. Whilst this lowers transport and manufacturing costs, it also makes long-distance transport of EPS quite costly.

More efforts need to be made to close the product loop in an effective manner. At present, the best method is to compress the EPS (which consists of over 90% air) into a dense form.

X-ray films

These can be shredded and processed in such a way to obtain elemental silver, which can be used produce valuable items or used within equipment.

There are many other materials that should be on this list, and will be included in a subsequent article. This post was created to highlight the importance of reusing and recycling materials that are often overlooked by the everyday consumer. Whilst there are various recycling schemes in place for numerous products used in today’s world, everyone should aim higher to ensure that nothing is wasted and everything is reused to its full potential.

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