A brief history of Recycling.

1031 Japan. The first recorded instance of paper recycling

1690 Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse Mill

America’s first paper mill took old fabrics, cloths, cotton and linen to produce recycled paper.

1776 New York City. First Metal Recycling.

A statue of King George III was torn down, melted and converted into 42,088 bullets

1813 Batley, West Yorkshire ‘The Shoddy Process’

The creation of recycled wool from old clothes and rags.

1891 London William Booth’s ‘Darkest England’

After founding the Salvation Army in 1865, William Booth devised the Darkest England scheme to aid the poor across London. Discarded items would be taken to a ‘commodious wharf’ near Battersea Bridge – which Booth had rented – and items would then be sorted and recycled wherever possible.

1897 New York City Material Recovery Centre

Following a recycling decree for New York City residents two years prior, NYC’s first materials recovery facility was created. This allowed discarded materials to be sorted and separated into various categories, so recyclable materials such as metals, paper, fabrics and more could be recycled. and reused.

1904 Chicago First American Aluminium Can Recycling Plants Open

In the United States, large scale aluminium production began in 1886, with the creation of the Hall-Héroult process. This quickly led to the first aluminium can recycling plants, the first of which operated out of Chicago, Illinois in 1904.

Recycling in Wartime

The first and second World Wars forced an innovative approach to resource management. With materials running low, both the US and Great Britain canvassed the public for help. Recycling propaganda pushes (‘Salvage for Victory’ in the US, 1942) asked people to be smarter about what they threw away and how they separated waste. For example, people were instructed to take waste cooking fats to local meat dealers, so they could be recycled into fuel for explosives.

1955 United States ‘Throwaway Living’

Recycling hasn’t always been on the upswing. In 1955, LIFE Magazine published a large story entitled ‘Throwaway Living’, pushing the idea that single-use items were the norm, and a necessary part of modern life. The celebratory – now foreboding – article helped to feed a less responsible way of thinking when it came to waste, leading to wide scale littering and a lack of guilt or forethought about the environment.

1970 United States The Recycling ‘Mobius Loop’ Logo

The Container Corporation of America held a competition to find a new symbol for recycled paper. 23 year-old engineering student Gary Anderson entered with a simple logo based on arrows arcing around each other. He won, earning $2000, and the iconic logo has become ingrained into the public consciousness ever since.

1977 Barnsley, South Yorkshire The UK’s First Bottle Bank

On the 6th June, 1977, Stanley Race dropped an empty jar into the very first glass recycling bank in the country. Glass is an infinitely recyclable material, and the introduction of bottle banks is a pivotal moment which made glass recycling easy for everyone.

1983 Canada The Blue Box Recycling System

In the city of Kitchener, Ontario, the blue box recycling system was introduced as a way of efficiently sorting and collecting household waste. The blue box system made it simple for the public to recycle plastic, paper, glass, aluminium, steel and other materials. The system was adopted and modified across the globe, and it remains in use to this day.

1991 Switzerland The First Electronic Recycling Programme

In Switzerland, IT and electronics importers gathered together to tackle the issue of electronic waste disposal. Discussions led to the development of the Swico recycling system, where waste electronic items would be collected and recycled free of charge to consumers. The system began with old refrigerators, but then grew to include all electronic waste.

2003 The EU The WEEE Directive

The European Union set the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive (WEEE) as European law. The directive set goals for EU members to improve electronic recycling rates. Over the years, the directive has seen multiple revisions, and in 2006, the UK introduced its own, expanded variant: ‘the waste electrical and electronic regulations’.

2003 England The Household Waste Recycling Act

With the introduction of this recycling legislation, it became law that local authorities in England provide every household with the collection of at least two types of recyclable materials by 2010.

2006 United States Dell Develops Free Recycling Programme

Computer manufacturer Dell becomes the first company to provide free recycling for its products, leading to a greater focus on the manufacturer’s part in making more sustainable products and taking responsibility for their disposal. Other manufacturers, including Sony and Apple, have since done the same.

2015 England 5p Single-Use Plastic Bag Charge

In a bid to reduce the use of plastic bags across the country, a five pence charge was introduced throughout shops in England, for anyone who wants to use a plastic bag. Since the introduction of the charge, plastic bag use has dropped by around 80% in England.

2021 England 10p Single-Use Plastic Bag Charge

The five pence charge was doubled to 10 pence.