Home Recycling General Recycling Recycling History
Recycling History
(0 votes, average 0 out of 5)
Bookmark and Share

Early recycling

Recycling has been a common practice for most of human history, with recorded advocates as far back as Plato in 400 BC. During periods when resources were scarce, archaeological studies of ancient waste dumps show less household waste (such as ash, broken tools and pottery)—implying more waste was being recycled in the absence of new material.

In pre-industrial times, there is evidence of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for perpetual reuse, and in Britain dust and ash from wood and coal fires was downcycled as a base material in brick making. The main driver for these types of recycling was the economic advantage of obtaining recycled feedstock instead of acquiring virgin material, as well as a lack of public waste removal in ever more densely-populated areas. 

Wartime recycling

Resource shortages caused by the world wars, and other such world-changing occurrences greatly encouraged recycling. Massive government promotion campaigns were carried out in World War II in every country involved in the war, urging citizens to donate metals and conserve fiber, as a matter of significant patriotic importance. Resource conservation programs established during the war were continued in some countries without an abundance of natural resources, such as Japan, after the war ended.

Post-war recycling

The next big investment in recycling occurred in the 1970s, due to rising energy costs. Recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required by virgin production; glass, paper and metals have less dramatic but very significant energy savings when recycled feedstock is used.

Woodbury, New Jersey was the first city in the entire United States to mandate recycling. Led by Rose Rowan in the early 1970s, the idea of towing a “recycling” trailer behind a waste management vehicle to enable the collection of trash and recyclable material at the same time emerged. Other towns and cities soon followed suit, and today many cities in the U.S. make recycling a requirement.

In 1987, the Mobro 4000 barge hauled garbage from New York to North Carolina; where it was denied. It was then sent to Belize; where it was denied as well. Finally, the barge returned to New York and the garbage was incinerated. The incident led to heated discussions in the media about waste disposal and recycling. The incident is often referred to as igniting the recycling "hysteria" of the 1990s.