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Recycling at the Beginning

Posted on April 19, 2018 by Matt Tomasino There have been 0 comments

Recycling has been a part of human evolution pretty much since the beginning. It shows up time after time through innovative ways to minimize input and maximize usage. From recycling at the beginning of history to the mass effort and industry it is today, there is great promise for the next generation’s recycling efforts.

Municipal Dumps, Recycled Paper

As great cities emerged, the essentials of clean water and adequate sewerage were needed. According to on-site finds, the first municipal dump was recorded in Athens about 400-500 B.C. Waste was required by law to be removed no less than one mile outside the city walls. Some liken this to the first landfill as waste was considered anything that was unwanted. However, it has been shown that there may have been an entire industry built around these municipal waste dumps. An industry that included scavenger salesmen, purveyors of the site which used natural deterrents regarding stench and gas accumulation as well as hired waste transport, like garbage trucks.

Move ahead a couple of hundred years across the ocean, and remnants of recycled waste paper are discovered. Japanese people recycled and re-pulped waste paper into new paper which sold in mom and pop shops across the country. Although some believe the Chinese recycled paper earlier, it was an innovative achievement that still thrives in the recycling industry today.

Rags to War Efforts

Philadelphia’s famous Rittenhouse Mill could be compared to Big Corp green action today when it developed recycled paper manufacturing in 1690. Mill workers realized that the fibers from linens and rags discarded weekly could be recycled into parchment paper.

Less than one hundred years later, recycling took a desperate turn. Rebel Americans began salvaging anything they could to fight the English in what would become the Revolutionary War. All metals, textiles and even food were reused in essential and unique ways which included ammunition, uniforms and rations.

Indigent to Aluminum Cans

Recycling is exactly what poor and indigent people may sometimes need to get a foothold by reusing and making money at the same time. The Household Salvage Brigade, started in London by the Salvation Army in 1865, employed unskilled, poor laborers to recover discarded materials. Plus, many benefitted from harvesting salvageable goods to improve their situation through resale or reusing. The Salvation Army still works with many struggling individuals and families teaching recycling and sustainable living.

Through the years, recycling and many other Eco-friendly practices continued. In 1897 New York City created one of the first material recovery facilities retrieving usable trash from “picking yards”; with the 1900’s came the ‘Waste is Wealth’ program to encourage reuse; and in 1904 the first American aluminum can recycling plant opened in Chicago and Cleveland.

More War Salvaging to Futuristic Recycling

Through two World Wars and the Great Depression, rationing, recycling and recovering were a national effort. Citizens started on an Eco-friendly mission which resulted in Congressional and activist action on many fronts.

The Resource Center cites a long list, some include:

  • Late 60’s - Arrows following one another in a circle becomes the recycling logo
  • Earth Day begins in 1970
  • 1971 Oregon starts the first refundable deposit for glass bottles
  • 1976 The Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is passed
  • 1988 Curbside recycling reaches 1,050 communities and by 1992 it rises to 5,404 with 10,000 recycling centers and 4,000 curbside collection programs only three years later
  • 2007 Five states pass laws requiring that unwanted electronics be recycled. San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to prohibit distribution of plastic bags by grocery stores
  • 2012 More than 585 million pounds of consumer electronics are recycled—an increase of 125 million pounds (more than 25 percent) over 2011
  • 2014 Industrial polymers are invented that “self heal” after broken apart creating potential for reducing electronic waste
  • 2015 California enacts the first state-wide ban on plastic bags
  • 2016 A team of Japanese scientists discovered a species of bacteria that eats plastics commonly found in water bottles
  • 2017 An engineer at Stanford and her team have come up with a new semiconductor that is not only as flexible as skin but is also biodegradable


Recycling at the beginning shows how humans have moved through history with the intention of creating a more sustainable planet. It has been an okay effort but needs to step up at a time where time is running out. Implement recycling, beyond plastic and metal recovery, were it is lacking in your community.

This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Defining Green, Green Living, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Your Community and was tagged with COMPOSTABLE, CONSERVES WATER, History of recycling, NON-TOXIC, RECYCLED-UPCYCLED, Recycling, SUSTAINABLE, waste


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