Recycling Through the Ages

Think recycling is a modern concept? Think again! The idea has actually been around for hundreds of years, ever since the Greeks created the first municipal dump back in 500 B.C. In fact, if you count reusing materials, people have been recycling for way longer than that—ancient civilizations couldn’t just drive over to Target and buy themselves a new kitchen utensil or homegood, so they largely made due with what they had.

In fact, some of our favorite styles come from our ancestor’s inventiveness—candlewicking, a popular form of embroidery often used on wedding gifts, comes from our forefathers (or more accurately, our fore-mothers) out on the prairie. These cash-strapped citizens didn’t make it to the store very often for new thread so they sewed using the wicks from their candles—and thus a new style of embroidery was born! Genius!

That’s just one example, though. Keep reading below for all the creative ways recycling impacted our ancestors through the ages.

500 BC: The first municipal waste dump is organized in Athena. Greek legislators dictate that all garbage be taken at least a mile away from the city. That definitely gives new meaning to “taking out the trash.”

1031: Always the mothers of invention, the Japanese display what is the first recorded instance of paper recycling (historians hypothesize that they might have gotten the idea from the Chinese, who were likely reclaiming paper for reuse much earlier, although there’s no written evidence of this). Administrators even repulped books from the Imperial Library to make new ones—talk about a bad review!

1690: A penny saved is a penny earned, indeed. The Rittenhouse Mill famously begins recycling linen and cotton scraps into paper, thus making it the first ever American recycling center. That’s what you’d call a true “rags to riches” story!

1898: New York City builds the first sorting plant for recycled rubbish, and citizens known as peddlers or “pickers” begin trailing the streets, asking for rags, bottles, and paper to recycle.

1901: The turn of the century proves to be a good time for recycling, as it marks the first aluminum can recycling plants opened in Chicago and Cleveland.

1940s: The American government encourages citizens to save tin cans, aluminum foil, and other kinds of scrap metal to donate to the war effort. Communities host “scrap drives” to collect materials, where participants would turn over not just metal, but also records, rubber tires, and even paper, since milled wood needed to go to the military, so pulp for paper was hard to come by. Who knew Rosie the Riveter was so green?

1964: The first 100 percent aluminum can is created. Manufacturers quickly learn the value of recouping old cans for recycling into new products.

1972: With interest in the environment high, the first recycling mill is built in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

1974: The first five municipal curbside recycling pickup services in the US are launched, and modern recycling as we know it is born!

1988: The city of Berkeley, California is the first municipality to ban polystyrene containers because they cannot be recycled.

1995: San Francisco begins offering local curbside composting pickups.

2007: Five states pass laws requiring household recycling of electronic waste. San Francisco, ever ahead of the curb, introduces the first plastic bag ban.

Today…and Tomorrow: We obviously still have a long way to go, but thanks to your efforts, we’re starting to see real results. The EPA reports that Americans recycled and composted 89 million tons of materials in 2014, which equals a reduction of 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—not too shabby!

Need help finding ways to recycle some of the junk in your home? Give us a shout at Humpback Junk Removal—we’re recycling addicts!

Comments (1)

Great history lesson. Never knew recycling went that far back.

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