The History of Recycling

For most individuals, families and even businesses today, recycling has become a normal part of our everyday routine. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come and how interesting of a journey bringing us to where we are today has been. To shed a little light, here is a brief history of recycling and modern waste management practices.

Believe it or not, the concept of recycling has been around since the 9th century, when the Japanese discovered first how to produce, then how to recycle used paper. During pre-industrial times, the collection of scrap metal became popular in Europe, where it was melted down and reused. The British used the leftover dust and ash from fires as the base material in their brickmaking practices.

In the US, the earliest documented case of recycling came around 1690, when a mill in Philadelphia began collecting linen and cotton rags to be used in the production of paper. During WWII, a nation-wide campaign was launched that facilitated the collection of tin, steel, rubber, paper and more. As a result, tens of thousands of tons of material were recycled to help support the war and aid the troops.

The 1960s saw the first curbside waste collection initiative, with separation of recyclable materials becoming more commonplace. During the 70s, this concept began to really flourish, along with the growth of green initiatives facilitated by the so-called “flower child” movement. The “chasing arrows” logo – the universal recycling symbol still used today – was officially developed by an architecture student from California.

In 1974, the first official curbside-recycling bins were introduced in Missouri. Two years later the state of Massachusetts secured recycling grant money, which was used to implement a regular recycling program via curbside collection using a residential recycling truck – the first of its kind. By the end of that decade, curbside recycling had been adopted by most states across the country.

In 1987, the state of New Jersey led the charge by implementing the nation’s very first mandatory recycling law, which required all residents to separate their solid waste for proper disposal. In 1993, Wisconsin followed suit and also upped the ante by enacting the first-ever state-wide ban of landfilling any materials that were recyclable. A couple years later a number of other items are also banned from being disposed of in landfills, including tires, aluminum, plastic containers, corrugated paper and newspapers. By 1998, 30% of Americans were actively participating in some type of recycling program.

During the early 2000s through today, the country has seen similar ongoing progress in the implementation and widespread adoption of formal recycling programs. Corporations, like McDonalds, have joined in the fight to protect and preserve our natural resources by replacing Styrofoam containers with paper ones and using biodegradable packaging materials. States and municipalities across the US continue to set goals to maximize recycling participation of residents.

Through this brief overview, it’s easy to see how far we have come in terms of responsible waste management practices. And from the look of things, we’re continuing to head in a positive direction. For more information on our waste management services, including recycling, contact us today.

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