Recycling history, rag trade, cans and glass bottles



The history of recycling has gone a long way, from 50 B.C. Greek and Roman periods to recent times’ focus in sustainable practices.  Recycling means processing waste items so that they can be used again.  Not only concerned environmentalists, but many entrepreneurs and companies have come up with recycling services including paper recycling business, plastic recycling, waste disposal recycling, and computer recycling centers.

Circa 50 B.C. to Late 1800s

Around 50 B.C. the Greeks introduced the first laws against dumping garbage in the streets. Municipal dumping areas were organised in Athens no less than two kilometres from the city walls. The practice of waste removal was short-lived as it disappeared in medieval Europe, where garbage was dumped in the streets and thrown out of windows.

In 1874, England tested the first incineration of municipal waste. Although the burning of waste reduced its volume by 70 percent to 90 percent, the cost of incinerators was prohibitive, besides, many people opposed the method when air quality deteriorated. The preferred choice reverted back to burying waste.

1900s to 1930s

In the UK and USA, “rag-and-bone” men started collecting unwanted items. By 1930s, many of them set up businesses by recycling industrial scrap.

1940s to 1970s

During the 1940s, people were encouraged to hand in metal items for the Second World War effort especially when raw materials became scarce as the enemy stopped supplies.  In an effort to stimulate “victory drives,” UK and the Allied Forces collected old tyres and scrap metals. Aluminium pots and pans were also melted for aircraft parts, while iron bedsteads and iron railings were converted to steel for weapons.  The 1950s post-war saw scout troops collecting newspapers to be recycled.

In the 1960s, North American  and European consumers had grown used to throwing away household waste, to be buried or burned.  By a decade later, health hazards made landfill sites unpopular.

After the industrial revolution in the 1700s, garbage was piled up in the countryside outside cities. As the cities grew, rat infestations and noxious odours became intolerable. Again, pits were dug to confine the waste.

The rise in oil prices in the early 1973 made people more aware of energy conservation.

1980s to Late 1990s

Greater awareness of the wastefulness of disposals and hazards led to public programmes of recycling, which began to exist in the 1980s. In Canada, a recycling collection system was set up. Community recycling systems were set up throughout the US.

In the 1990s, more than 50 million North Americans were recycling including aluminium drinks cans and newspapers. Cans came from aluminium drinks cans and tin cans, separated magnetically for recycling.

There was an increase in the use of recyclable plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and glass bottles were recycled, broken down and melted to make new products.

Present Times 21st Century

The advent of the 21st century, with more focus on sustainability practices, certainly heralds a brighter future for recycling.  It’s not difficult to do the right thing if earthlings take recycling to heart, in mind a sustainable environment.

Source:  Science and Technology Year By Year. London: Marshall Publishing Edition, 2001