The waste and recycling industry has much to offer — From important discoveries to amusing professionals, the industry is full of exciting activity, most of which was captured in the media throughout this year.
Here are the editor's picks for the 10 most interesting, shocking, and downright crazy stories of 2015:
To kick off the year with a true waste oddity, it was reported in January that 18,000 heart-shaped fruit cakes were stolen from a landfill in Kragujevac, Serbia then resold to the black market, according to BBC News. City Mayor Radomi Nikolic had pointed fingers at an "organized group" for the heist, noting that the cakes showed up "in suspicious places and at suspicious prices," according to B29.
Once the theft was discovered, the National Organization of Consumers of Serbia posted a photograph of the cakes to warn consumers to not buy them.
Some junk is too out-of-this-world for the average waste hauler to handle, which is why scientists took matters into their own hands this year to combat space junk. In April, it was reported that a panel of international scientists are developing a system to destroy space debris with a fiber optic laser. Project leader Toshikazu Ebisuzaki dubbed the proposed concept as accurate, inexpensive, and fast, in comparison to other methods.
Just as ocean debris has created hazards for wildlife and the overall marine environment, space debris presents alarming dangers to satellites and important equipment in space. According to Vox, there are about 19,000 pieces of trash larger than a softball orbiting Earth, each of which could cause damage to satellites or the International Space Station.
Beirut's trash crisis has been one for the books in 2015, as the issue enters its sixth month in the Lebanon city. Mounting garbage piles began building up around the city as a result of political dysfunction in Beirut, when the public "discovered that the cost of garbage collection in Lebanon far outstrips that of any other country in the region," according to The Washington Post. As "You Stink" activists took to the streets to protest the city's political system, Uber took a different approach.
The ride-booking service partnered with Live Love Beirut and Advanced Car Rental to collect recyclable waste around the city for free, before handing it over to a sustainability company for processing. Through the Uber app, Beirut residents were able to request a van will stop by to pick up recycling in sealed bags. Although the promotion only lasted from July 27 through Aug. 4, it was a heartfelt movement from the company — and a good look into the possibility of on-demand trash pickup.
While most couples offer over-the-top fish or steak dinners at wedding receptions, this newlywed couple had a unique, more sustainable idea for their celebratory meal. English couple Zoe Chambers and Charles Loughlin turned to FoodCycle, a charity that turns discarded food scraps into meals for people at risk, to cater their wedding.
The dishes? Moroccan-style mixed vegetables using ingredients past their best-before dates, along with a panzella salad made of discarded potatoes, tomatoes, and bread from supermarkets.
"Had that food not been used for our wedding it would be all gone in the bin," said Loughlin to Mirror. "All the guests were aware and it went down really well, everyone loved the food and everyone loved the idea."
A few months later, a London couple served food waste dishes at their wedding reception, sparking surprise and even a round of applause during the dinner.
In a year when Styrofoam has caused major controversy throughout the industry, a Stanford research engineer discovered a species that may help take a bite out of the issue: mealworms.
Wei-Min Wu co-authored two studies suggesting that mealworms, the larvae form of the darkling beetle, can live off of a diet of Styrofoam, proving to be as healthy for the worms as a regular diet. In the research, 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam each day, resulting in excreted, biodegraded waste that appeared safe to use as crop soil.
"There's a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places," Stanford professor Craig Criddle said in the report. "Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock."
Call him cute, call him creepy, but whatever you call him, make sure you address him by his proper name: Totes McGoats.
Totes, a goat-human hybrid, was introduced to Niagara Falls, NY in 2014 as a new mascot to encourage children to recycle. "I guess you would say Totes is a cute animal mascot, kind of scary actually. But having an animal mascot we think is one of the ways that you can reach out to kids and get their attention," Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster told Buffalo News.
Despite a mixed reaction to his unique features, Totes began gaining attention in October when it was reported that Niagara Falls' recycling participation rate grew from 4% to 23% since Totes was announced as mascot.
While geckos may have inspired funny car insurance advertisements, it is unusual for any type of lizard to spark innovation in the waste industry. However, Ford broke boundaries in October when it announced plans to work with Proctor & Gamble to create gecko-inspired adhesives, which will in turn help Ford recycle autoparts.
Currently, separating plastic and metal autoparts from foam that is glued to materials causes recycling to be almost impossible for automakers. By researching the science behind a gecko's toe pads — which have the ability to stick to surfaces without liquid or surface tension — and working with The Biomimicry Institute, Ford may be able to develop adhesives that drastically increase recycling rates across many different industries.
Mr. Trash Wheel, Baltimore's $750,000 water wheel that uses solar energy and water currents to clean trash from the city's harbor, has made quite a splash in 2015 as it collected tons of pollution from the water. Yet there's one place that Mr. Trash Wheel may have been more popular this year than in the harbor: on Reddit.
In October, Mr. Wheel (accompanied, of course, by Clearwater Mills and the Healthy Harbor Initiative) turned to the social networking site to launch an AMA — short for "ask me anything" — titled, "I am Mr. Trash Wheel, the first invention of its kind that has removed 331 tons of garbage from Baltimore's harbor."
Despite Reddit's warnings that the Q&A may not be popular with site users, more than 1,000 comments and questions caused it to soar to the top of the discussion boards, surpassing a thread about the new "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" movie. The surge in discussion about the wheel proved the concept's popularity among the general public.
A homeless man in Fremont, CA escaped death early in December when he was dumped into the back of a trash truck while taking a nap in a dumpster. The man went through two cycles of compaction in the truck before miraculously climbing out and being transported to the hospital.
"Preventing homeless (or drunk) people from going to sleep in a dumpster is difficult, and to hear them over the noise generated by the truck is equally challenging...Drivers and helpers should keep their eyes and ears open for a possible person in the dumpster when the container is lifted and dumped," NWRA Safety Director John Haudenshield said in a statement following the incident.
A lucky kitten was able to keep one of its nine lives in Sacramento, CA when a recycling center employee spotted it among the recyclables and waste on the facility conveyer belt. Tony Miranda, the loader operator, was able to grab the kitten off of the quick belt before it was swept into the compactor.
"It's just amazing to see a little kitty survive through all this," said Miranda. The shift supervisor, Heather Garcia, adopted the kitten and named her "Murphy," after MRF (materials recovery facility).