The history of recycling around the world
Recycling waste products isn't a modern idea, and actually dates back several centuries before the invention of the dustbin. We take a glance back at recycling over the last millennium, from antiquity to industrial recycling.
Recycling : The formative years
Who invented recycling? Nobody knows who exactly was the very person to recycle. But while sources are too unreliable to confirm its practice during the Bronze Age (from 3000 to 1000 B.C.), historians are nonetheless certain that the principle of recycling came hand-in-hand with the development of the first human craftsmen.. However, some archaeological research projects have proven that proto-waste from Ancient Greece — around 400 B.C. — contained fewer used tools or broken vases during times of recession. This would imply that materials were systematically reused, and melted down to make new pieces.
The idea spread to several different human communities, and took new forms. In first century China, the Minister for Agriculture in the Han dynasty recommended that subjects of the emperor boil old linen rags to make paper. This method was brought to Europe in the eighth century by Arab civilisations, after their forays into the Far East. And rag-and-bone men appeared.
In the Medieval West, waste management became particularly problematic. Towns sprouted up everywhere, population numbers soared, and the amount of waste grew. As there were no laws to govern how it was handled, waste built up in the streets and rivers and remained a real concern right up to the Renaissance, when monarchs such as Francis I began calling for the use of baskets to collect refuse. And this made it easier to reuse. In England, the first professional recyclers began collecting the dust and ash generated by open fires in houses, then sold it on to brick manufacturers, who used it as a very inexpensive base material. In Japan, paper recycling had already been around for several centuries, and techniques were being fine-tuned.
Ten dates in the history of recycling
3000 B.C.: The first metal objects are melted down to make new ones.
500 B.C.: Athens invents the first municipal rubbish dump, and obliges its citizens to deposit their waste there.
105: During the Han dynasty, the Chinese Minister for Agriculture Tsai Lun invents the idea of making paper from old linen rags.
1031: In Japan, new paper is made from recycled paper for the first time in the history of humanity.
1690: The first recycled paper company, The Rittenhouse Mill, is founded in Philadelphia.
1884: Eugène Poubelle, the prefect of the Seine, makes Parisians use a closed container — that would bear his name — to deposit their waste, and make it easier to collect.
1940: Nylon, elastic, used batteries and various scrap metals are recycled in Europe and the United States to benefit the war effort.
1970: The symbol for recycling — also known as the Möbius strip — becomes the universal logo for recyclable materials.
1973: The first recycling centre for plastic materials is created in Conshohocken, in the United States.
2016: The recycling industry generates revenue volume of 160 billion dollars throughout the world, and employs around 1.5 million people.
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