The Evolution of Recycling

Throughout the centuries, the clever use of natural resources and reuse of materials has been crucial to the survival and development of human civilisations, especially in times of austerity. The basic purpose of recycling is to reduce waste by transforming items which are useless in their present state (depleted, broken etc.) into new similar items by first reverting them into the original materials they are made from.

Today this process is of extreme necessity due to the pressure put on the planet’s resources by corporations and consumerist societies, often producing and consuming what can rationally be deemed unnecessary goods.

Recycling throughout history

Today, through advanced technologies and intense processing, people can obtain similar products from a variety of diversely sourced materials – but that was not always the case. For instance, the scarcity of local resources and inability to mass-produce imperiously needful items such as metallic weapons has often caused populations to melt the damaged ones, along with other metallic items of all sorts, and reuse the metal towards making new weapons.

Evolution of Recycling

There are also records of broken glass being recycled into new glass objects in the Mediterranean area, where Turkey is today. Bronze coins are known to have been reused as well through the same method in ancient Rome and the resulting bronze turned into ornaments.

Another material subjected to a recycling process, vaguely during the same historical period, was ceramic. Metal scrapping actually continued all through the Middle Ages and pre-industrial times, when textiles were recycled as well.

The 20th century

Although the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were dominated by intense industrialisation and recycling was put on the back burner as materials and products became more abundant, the Second World War brought about the need for a very careful use of any available resource.

The war generated food rationing and an overall insufficiency of everyday use products, as well as intense campaigns calling for the reuse and recycling of anything suitable. When the war ended, some countries preserved that tendency, whilst others (western ones in particular) became more wasteful.

In those particular countries, the interest in environmental issues was largely raised during the 1960s, with the hippie generation playing a major role in raising awareness and rebelling against consumerism and the monopoly of major corporations over resources and markets. Legislation was then introduced in Europe as an official bid to protect the environment, first in 1986 and then in 1990. Later EU directives related to waste reduction and avoiding excessive packaging were in place a few years later.

Present day

Recycling is now present in all developed countries, from individual homes to public institutions and private businesses. It mainly targets paper, glass, metal and plastic, although it is also common to recycle textiles and electronics. It is included in many popular events such as music and arts festivals, which in past years used to generate substantial amounts of waste – today, they try to outdo each other in being greener.

Campaigns for an increased emphasis on recycling are very frequent and supported by the entire mass-media, reaching whole populations and enjoying higher rates of success. It has not only become a growing trend but an industry in itself, with ranges of products dedicated to facilitating it, such as recycle bins, as well as publications, television programs, posters, stickers and so forth.

A niche was even found within the music industry, in the form of educational songs for nursery and primary school children, teaching them about the benefits of recycling and protecting nature from being damaged by an excess of waste. Although it is nowadays associated with the more than questionable fervour of fighting man-made global warming and definitely false alarm of overpopulation, recycling in itself is without doubt a positive, practical and necessary habit.

Future perspectives

As intense as campaigning in favour of recyclingis today, on the government’s part as well as that of a number of foundations and private organisations, it is not yet mandatory. However, that is expected to happen in the near future as the present young generations are being raised into the spirit of nature conservation. Needless to say, if developed into an obsession, that is a just cause for concern, as extremist attitudes are starting to emerge, calling for radical measures such as population control in order to avoid waste. In a likely succession, not recycling will first be perceived as socially reprehensible, then morally unacceptable, then illegal.

Absurdities are also likely to happen, such as unannounced rubbish auditing conducted by councils, which is very intrusive. Nonetheless, it is up to the general population to discern what level-headed green activism is and what is simply an exaggeration of it, and draw the line somewhere. Meanwhile, it is clear that while mindless consumerism continues to be a reality, fanatical attitudes aside, it is beneficial for recycling to be embraced by more people.

What can be recycled

Paper: Most paper based products can now be recycled, by turning them into pulp and then into brand new paper to be used for making similar products. This is a particularly useful cycle for newsprint and office paper, as it tends to pile up in a very wasteful manner.

Cardboard: Cardboard resulted mostly from packaging is collected and recycled into new cardboard, to be used towards the same purpose.

Glass: Although glass recipients are successfully reused and reusing is often preferred to recycling, three types of glass can be recycled, namely clear (which is the most commonly found in products on the market), green and brown.

Metal: Metal provides one of the highest efficiency rates when recycled, as the quality of the resulting metals is almost as high as that of the initial ones. In addition to that, items made from recycled metals are cheaper and less polluting to produce, as the metals have already undergone some essential processing. The most frequently recycled metals are aluminium, steel, copper, lead and zinc.

Plastic: Unlike metal, glass and paper, which are often turned into items resembling the original ones, plastic is usually recycled into objects of completely different properties and appearance.

Other recyclables include electronics, textiles (which have been recycled since pre-industrial times), tetra packs, batteries and envelopes.

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Did You Know?

spacer According to Defra, each person in England produced an average of 457 Kilograms of waste in 2009-10. Of this, an average of about 181 Kilograms per person was recycled. That left 60% of un-recycled waste, at an average of 276 kilograms per person.

From Protect Our Environment