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5 Examples of Recycling from History


Recycling can be defined as the process of converting waste materials into new materials, as opposed to the process of waste disposal. The Recycling Industry is central to the modern concern for minimizing waste and maximizing natural resources, and it concerns most of the material products we use each day, including glass, plastic, cardboard, metal, textiles, electronics, and even cars.

Due to conversations about the environment and the availability of resources, the subject of recycling gets a lot of attention in today’s media. However, despite the modern day obsession with recycling and environmental issues, such activity has been common practice for most of human history.  


Here are 5 examples of historical recycling:

  1. Archaeological studies of ancient waste dumps show that during periods when resources were scarce there was less household waste (eg ash, discarded plates and other pottery and other broken items such as tool).  This suggest that the waste was actually being recycled.  There are actual records of recycling activity as far back as Plato in 400 BC;
  2. Before the industrial revolution, which started around 1750, there is plenty of evidence of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for reuse;
  3. The term ‘dustman’ originates from when dust and ash from wood and coal fires was collected and then used as a base material in brick making;
  4. As the industrial revolution took hold, many secondary goods were collected, processed and sold by peddlers who combed dumps, city streets and went door to door looking for discarded machinery, cooking pots & pans and other metals;
  5. Around 1800, one of the best recycling initiatives of all was when some drinks manufacturers, notably Schweppes, introduced the recycling of glass bottles with consumers paying a refundable deposit;


And of course as we proceed forward in time the examples abound, especially during period of war when material want was being felt by even the wealthiest nations in the world. Here’s a poster from World War II:



This only goes to show that the Recycling Industry has been and will continue to be vitally important, and that perhaps there are many initiatives from the past that could be reintroduced today.


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