Friday, October 29, 2010

The history of recycling

Recycling is something most semi-pro-environmentalist groups advocate as a means to reducing environmental impact. Although I think recycling is a way of avoiding the issue of waste and trash, I see some merit in it. Matthew, who I met at Sameer's wedding, started telling me a little bit about the history of recycling, and how it came to be recognised. So, here's the lowdown of an online search:

"In the 1930s and 40s, conservation and recycling became important in American society and in many other parts of the world. Economic depressions made recycling a necessity for many people to survive, as they couldn't afford new goods. In the 1940s, goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals were rationed and recycled to help support the war effort. However, the economic boom of the postwar years caused conservationism to fade from the American consciousness. It wasn't until the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s, heralded by the first Earth Day in 1970, that recycling once again became a mainstream idea. Though recycling suffered some lean years -- due to public acceptance and the market for recycled goods not growing -- it has generally increased from year to year. The success of recycling traces to wide public acceptance, the improved economics of recycling and laws requiring recycling collections or enforcing recycled content in certain manufacturing processes.

One of the main reasons for recycling is to reduce the amount of garbage sent to landfills. Landfill usage peaked in the 1980s, when Americans sent almost 150 million tons (136.08 million metric tons) of garbage to landfills each year. Today, we still dump more than 100 million tons (90.719 million metric tons) of trash into landfills annually."

Click here for an interesting booklet made by the California Environmental Protection Agency.

From Wikipedia:
"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. In Britain dust and ash from wood and coal fires was collected by 'dustmen' and downcycled as a base material used 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. In 1813, Benjamin Law developed the process of turning rags into 'shoddy' and 'mungo' wool in Batley, Yorkshire. This material combined recycled fibres with virgin wool. The West Yorkshire shoddy industry in towns such as Batley and Dewsbury, lasted from the early 19th century to at least 1914.

Industrialization spurred demand for affordable materials; aside from rags, ferrous scrap metals were coveted as they were cheaper to acquire than was virgin ore. Railroads both purchased and sold scrap metal in the 19th century, and the growing steel and automobile industries purchased scrap in the early 20th century. Many secondary goods were collected, processed, and sold by peddlers who combed dumps, city streets, and went door to door looking for discarded machinery, pots, pans, and other sources of metal. By World War I, thousands of such peddlers roamed the streets of American cities, taking advantage of market forces to recycle post-consumer materials back into industrial production."

"Recycling has a history that dates back to the historic times. As early as 400 BC (and even earlier), people have been recycling. For example, archaeological evidence indicates that glass from the imperial Byzantine times were being recycled in the ancient city of Sagalassos, located in current day Turkey. There is also evidence that early Romans recycled bronze coins into statues that could be sold at a higher monetary value than the original coins. In hard times (eg. wartime), metals from everything like jewelry and coins were being melted for weapons or other necessary goods. Pottery recycling operations have been uncovered as well.
Archaeologist also deduced from waste remnants about the history of recycling – that recycling was a popular practice during times of distress. For example, less waste remains were found where there were also other indicators of distress such as famine, war and widespread illness. During these times of distress, new materials might have been scarce, making the recycling of waste necessary."

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