The History of Recyling

Written by ross lane
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The History of Recyling
The practice of recycling has a long history. (a blue recycle symbol image by wayne ruston from

Human beings have been recycling materials throughout history. Reasons for recycling range from need in times of hardship to protecting the environment from unnecessary resource depletion. Although humans have been reusing materials in some fashion for centuries, recycling efforts did not become organized until the early 1800s in Great Britain.

Early Recycling Efforts

In 1821, organized paper recycling was established for the first time. The Britain Waste Paper Association was set up with the purpose of encouraging the waste paper recycling trade. For the first time, an explicit group was created with the purpose of controlling waste material recycling.

Recycling During World War II

Material shortages during World War II prompted the creation of recycling programs organized to provide metals and other production resources for weapons manufacturing. A patriotic slant was applied to these programs, and many programs continued after the conclusion of the war in countries without abundant resources.

Rising Energy Costs

During the 1970s, rising energy costs prompted an increase in recycling programs, due to the lower costs necessary for recycling when compared to manufacturing. Legislation such as the Clean Water Act of 1977 created demand for recycling products, as the act increased the cost of bleaching paper, making the recycling of already bleached paper products much more cost-effective.

First Curbside Recycling Collection

A major development in the history of recycling came in 1973, when the city of Berkeley, California organized the first curbside collection of newspapers for recycling. The curbside-collection process has since been adopted by many other cities.

Polystyrene Ban

In 1989, Berkeley was the source of another major effort in recycling development. The city banned the use of polystyrene plastic packaging for fast-food hamburgers. The ensuing resistance of plastics manufacturers to the ban led to efforts to prove the possibility of plastic recycling. According to, over 1,600 companies in the United States were involved in plastics recycling 10 years after the ban.

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