The Most Inspiring Recycled Materials Projects Designed This Year

Recycling is one of those things that makes our hearts soar, and it’s a big part of what makes Nalgene Outdoor tick. That’s because the numbers on single-use plastic waste are pretty scary, with 2.5 million plastic water bottles thrown in the garbage every hour in the United States. And get this: since humans started mass-producing plastics about 60 years ago, the latest figures show that 8.3 billion metric tons of it have been produced. That’s a lot of plastic that’s out there in the world today, and as a whole we’re not recycling nearly as much of it as we’re able to. The most recent numbers from the EPA show that only about 8.7% of plastic is recycled overall.

Despite these figures, the truth is that recycling is one of the few tools in our arsenal that can help combat the massive amounts of plastic that are thrown in the garbage. And here at Nalgene Outdoor, we’re focused on refill, not landfill, and we’re proud that our prized bottles help stop this cycle of trash. 

Here’s the deal: if you use a Nalgene bottle, you’ll save 167 single use bottles a year from landfills. Not only that, but our Sustain line of bottles is also made with material derived from 50% plastic waste. That means that you’re playing an even bigger role in helping the planet deal with it’s plastic. But putting old materials to new uses doesn’t have to only happen in the recycling plants. Everybody has the power to take recycled materials, and turn them into something beautiful, useful, and just plain brilliant.

Maybe back when you were in school your class worked on some recycling art projects, or nowadays you pass the time with some DIY recycling home projects that put old bottles, CDs, and even lightbulbs to work. Turning recycled materials into an amazing project is something that is truly incredible, and in fact, we’ve seen some really inspiring projects made out of recycled materials this year alone. These projects showcase some of the innovative ways people are taking recycling into their own hands, and also show how there’s no limit to the human imagination. Here’s a look at some of the most inspiring recycled materials projects designed this year.

Super highway built from paper waste

While new roads and highways are important to infrastructure, cement can actually be a huge contributor to pollution. That’s why this highway in Spain that’s being made using paper ash is even more impressive than you might realize. Here are some of the facts: concrete is the “second most consumed resource on the planet,” and according to one think tank, it’s the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

In Valencia, Spain, one stretch of highway looks like all the others, but it’s being built from paper ash, which is “burnt waste paper and pulp that can no longer be recycled.” It’s working to help the environment in two ways: by reducing cement production and usage, and by putting those otherwise useless materials to use. Project managers believe using this process can save “65-75% of the associated CO2 emissions” for building the highway. And this might only be the beginning, because this road is one of three pilot projects using this technology. Those who are pioneering it have big plans to expand this idea in the future.

Adidas/Allbirds low carbon footprint shoe

Sneakers are necessary for so many of the activities that we love doing outdoors, but they leave behind more than just a footprint in the mud. Footwear as a whole is responsible for about 1.4% of global carbon emissions, which is why it’s amazing when big companies look for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their shoes. Adidas joined forces with Allbirds to announce a partnership focused on sustainable footwear that still delivers with performance. They came up with their  FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT shoe which has a carbon footprint of less than 3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) per pair. 

The average running shoe typically generates about 12.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, or about 30 pounds. This shoe by Adidas and Allbirds clocks in at just 2.94 CO2e per pair. The shoes had a limited release in 2021, but are set for wider release in 2022.

Canal boat made from canal waste

Amsterdam is known for its picturesque and charming canals, but these waterways have an unfortunate issue with plastic waste. Plastic waste ends up in the 100 kilometer canal system due mostly to heavy tourism and the wind, which blows plastic into the water. Fashion company Scotch & Soda teamed up with non-profit Plastic Whale to make a canal boat made out of plastics collected from the canal.

Plastic Whale has actually been working on a fleet of boats made from canal plastic. Each boat contains 5,000 plastic bottles, and construction takes about three months. This most recent boat made with the help of Scotch & Soda also includes a mosaic deck made of about 900 plastic caps, mixed with golden brass buttons left over from the fashion brand’s sample collections. 

Shoe made out of birthday balloons

Birthdays are a cause for celebration, but many party favors that we know and love unfortunately end up in the trash, usually after just one use. A Libson-based shoe brand launched a new sneaker with soles made out of party balloons and rubber tire leftovers. When you flip them over, you see a colorful sole that is a mark of their festive materials.

These shoes don’t stop there, and they’re made with other recycled and natural materials. The lining is made from bamboo, and the vegan suede outer shell is actually also made from recycled plastics. That’s definitely something to celebrate.

Garbage bag gala

One event encouraged fashionistas to turn one person’s trash into another’s treasure. The Garbage Bag Gala was a fundraiser fashion show, where university students designed pieces made out of recycled materials. This show included jackets that looked like leather (but were made out of garbage bags), structured and layered skirts, and a hooded vest made of a silvery packing material. 

Amature and professional designers alike made pieces for the show, and all of their creations were made from recycled and other unconventional materials. The best part? This whole thing was actually a fundraiser that raised money in support of women’s and family programs for a community center. 

Rainbow arch made from drinking cans

Some folks are turning trash into beautiful recycled artwork that is designed to draw attention. This giant rainbow arch popped up in England, made entirely of recycled cans. It was installed by a non-profit called Every Can Counts, and it was made out of more than 2,500 recycled drinking cans, all organized by color. The program manager for the organization said “We’re really excited to bring this eye-catching sculpture to Manchester city center to remind people about the importance of recycling.”

This installation is a part of a bigger message from the group: that aluminium is infinitely recyclable. For example, they say that all of the cans collected in the city of Manchester over a weekend could be recycled and refilled on shop shelves in just 60 days – and then infinitely recycled again and again.

Converting rainwater to tap water

A studio in the Netherlands is using recycled plastic to turn rainwater into drinking water. This portable water station is made out of recycled plastics, and can be used as a handwashing or fresh water station for public spaces. The designers of this project wanted it to fulfill multiple purposes. Firstly, the device is made out of recycled plastics itself, and it’s incredibly functional. It harvests rainwater, which is then stored in a barrel, and can be accessed using a foot pump. The creators of this device hope to not only bring attention to the usefulness of rainwater, but also to the importance of putting recycled plastics to work.

There’s No Limit To Inspiring Projects With Recycled Materials

There’s no limit to what you can do with the objects we typically throw away. What was once considered garbage can be turned into something creative, effective, and yes, inspiring, and these are just a few of our favorite projects that involve recycled materials.

Shop the sustain collection

Here at Nalgene Outdoor, we also are dedicated to creating bottles that put recycled materials to good use. That’s why we came up with our Sustain line, where each bottle is made with material derived from 50% plastic waste. Each of our Nalgene Sustain bottles is actually created from resin that’s powered by our next generation recycling technology, which transforms plastic that’s destined for landfills into our high-performing bottles that you know and love.

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