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.


don't forget the origin of 'buffalo' wings

Randy Clemens

David Crane from takes "spent grain" leftover from the beer brewing process and makes it into dog treats. He also makes a line called Stone Bones that uses spent grain from Stone Brewing Co. (Disclosure: I work for Stone.)


Start here:

Dusan Vilicic

I'd vote for Justin Gignac's NYC Garbage: www[dot]nycgarbage[dot]com


I've built musical instruments out of wooden tennis racquets, an old frying pan, Altoids tins, and even a vintage bedpan.

Here is an example:

Robin Marlowe

Who's recycling? I made an original discovery. Saw the ad for the Institute for Advanced Study. Would be nice to apply. The problem is-- I cannot and it is not a matter of being late for the November 1 deadline or not late as far as "women" and "math" have been a particular concern) -- the categories do not fit. I am just too far ahead of the game. Now that is real "Weird" as in "strange" and "extraordinary" especially because the spelling does not adhere to the rule.

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My friend makes rugs and baskets out of discarded fabric.

Beth Terry

Irrigation trick: I took 2 dozen water bottles, poked holes in the lids and cut off the bottoms. Then buried them lid-down in my garden. I can fill up the water bottles easily and I have instant "drip watering" much deeper than I would have.

Travel Tip: I occasionally use 5hr energy. I collected all the bottles and now those are my instant travel bottles for all my sundry items I need to carry on.

Something for the kiddies: I wash out all the small plastic and glass containers I use. When I get a box full, I drop them off at an elementary school, along with all my old magazines. Teachers are always looking for pictures for their kids to use in collages, and they need small containers for things like paint and other craft projects.

Small metal kits: I'm a huge Altoids fan. I make cool things out of the tins when I'm done. You can paint on the metal or glue cloth or other designs. It's a sturdy little container for many things: I have my tiny iPod shuffle in an "Ipoid" Case made from one. Other uses: business card case; sewing supplies for travel, soap holder for travel, holds waterproof matches for camping, I use a Square for credit card transactions and I keep my Square and supplies in an old altoids case. I also keep my eyeglass tools in one. There are many websites with ideas for this handy little metal box,

Recycle Washing Machine: My neighbors took their old washing machine and used the metal basket as a portable firepit. They welded the bottom to a metal frame with wheels; painted it with fireproof black paint; and put a tray underneath to catch the ashes. It's a perfect heater for a large group of people sitting around it. The holes in the basket provide for even distribution of heat, and are small enough to block ashes from flying out.

Repurpose lawnmower: Another neighbor took an old lawnmower engine and attached it to the back of a skateboard. He attached an old curtain rod to the front and welded a cross bar for steering. He rides it all over the neighborhood.

Construction: I saw a home in Northern Arizona where an entire wall was made of glass bottles buried in mortar. As they built the wall, they stacked bottles in alternating directions and filled in between them with mortar. The glass bottles catch the light and create interesting shapes and colors.



That washing machine firepit is genius! I want one.


I second that Antartica recycle. Glitter and dreams, can't beat that!


My dad took the remains of an old piano down into the woods near his house and cut away the front section to expose the strings. He then hung ping-pong balls above the piano so that the wind would carry them to bounce and roll off the strings. Nature played this eerie symphony by itself; we could hear the strange and unpredictable music floating up from the woods from the back garden.

Brian Keaney

In Cambridge, MA, there is a park where you can place your dog waste into a receptacle, and the feces are used to power an electric light.

robin marlowe

My daughter went to a camp where they recycle all the waste of the fruits and veggis. Isn't there an expression, one man's .... is another's....

so daughter has this idea of NY city without cars- trolley travel crosstown and up and down. And then could it be powered by all the waste. I wonder?

Megan W.

Using the byproducts from the beer industry to salt/de-ice the roads: p11

Herr's potato chips uses the skins and dropped potato chips to feed a herd of beef cows. (I learned this on the factory tour)

Henry Scollard

11 years ago I found a mysterious, robotic-looking device in the curbside trash of a salon in downtown Boston. The thing stood 6 feet tall, had wheels, and was festooned with all sorts of heaters, blowers, and even had a primitive (like, Intellivision-primitive) computer circuit board in which various hair types and treatments could be programmed. It looked like it had been beamed down from "Logan's Run", and you don't need me to tell you that I swept it up and took it home. (I have yet to find a more effective drunk/chick/drunk chick magnet. Not that I'm looking.) Technically, it is a Jupiter mu-30 something or another (nobody has ever been able to tell me exactly what it does), but to me it's always been the Robot. And the Robot has had quite a run over the last decade. He's appeared in the book "Taking Things Seriously", has been featured in the Pop Candy column in USA Today, and is currently 1/2 of my current ventriloquist act. He's done book signings/readings, served as my Christmas tree, hell, he probably has his own fan page somewhere. Just don't ask him for a "Rachel", 'cos those days are long gone.


Henry Scollard

Shameless self-promotion:

Scott Downs

Check out the Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum in Annville, PA. Excellent and weird all at once. My newspaper, the Lebanon Daily News has done numerous stories, but a better way to be introduced is to simply start from the beginning on their Facebook page.

Love your books. Thanks so much for helping me see the world a little differently.


Scott Downs


This guy made an entire museum/playground out of recycled art in St. Louis:

It is one of the coolest things I have ever experienced. Unfortunately, the guy responsible for it died just a couple months ago in an accident, while he was building even more recycled art (


I worked as an engineer at a medical device company that used Platinum wire as a common component in assembles. Scrapping defective parts was commonplace given the quality standards, and the metal was recycled with extreme vigilance - the reconciliation of weight allowed no more than 1/10th of a gram to go missing.

Weird? Probably given that that man hours spent separating and accounting for it easily accounted for more cost than the actual material price paid by the recycler. It would have been cheaper for the company to throw it in the trash than recycle it!

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Here's a BBC video about a "zero-waste" island off the coast of Japan: