Timeline of recycling

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This is a timeline of recycling, attempting to describe significant events in the history of this process.

Sample questions

The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:

  • How did recycling for every material evolved throughout time?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Material".

Big picture

Time period Development summary
Ancient times As early as 400 BC, people are known to recycle. Archaeological evidence indicates that glass is recycled in the ancient city of Sagalassos, Turkey, during the imperial Byzantine times.[1] Early Romans are also found to recycle bronze coins into statues that could be sold at a higher monetary value than the original coins.[2] Bronze scrap recovery systems are developed in Europe
18th Century Industrial revolution. It becomes easier and cheaper to produce goods, it is also easier and sometimes cheaper to throw used items away.[2]
19th Century Scrap metal is purchased by sold by railroads.[3] "Dustmen" collect ash from coal fires, in order to use it as soil conditioner and for brick–making. The practice is still alive today.[4]
20th Century In the 1930s, many people survive the Great Depression by peddling scraps of metal, rags and other items.[5] Goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals are rationed and recycled during World War II.[5] Further in the 1940s ad 1950s, recycling becomes less important as landfilling becomes a cheap way to dispose trash. The 1960s see the rise of the environmental movement, which provoques public awareness and rises environmental consciousness. In the 1970s, a strong worldwide growth in support for energy conservation is triggered partly by the energy shortages and rising prices resulting from the emergence of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),[6] thus recycling becomes more popular again and drop-off recycling centers are established.[2] In the 1980s, major cities in the United States begin establishing curbside collection programs for plastics and other recyclables.[7] In the 1990s, municipal recycling programs are established throughout the United States and Europe.[8] Extended producer responsibility programs merge worldwide. "Single-stream recycling popped up in several California communities in the 1990s as a low-barrier entry into recycling."[9][10]

Full timeline

Year Category Type of event Event Geographical location
3300 BC–1200 BC Metal recycling Recovery Bronze scrap recovery systems are developed in Europe during the European Bronze Age.[4] Europe
2000 BC Metal recycling Recovery Composting/Recycling methods, as well as recycling bronze for later use, are developed in China.[11] China
400 BC Glass recycling Recovery Recycling may start as early as this time, when some civilizations take glass from conquered villages and reuse the glass in their own settlements. Recycling materials, such as glass, becomes necessary for survival, especially in times of disease, war, or famine.[12]
105 AC Textile recycling Technology introduction Han dynasty. During this period the Chinese Minister for Agriculture Tsai Lun invents the idea of making paper from old linen rags.[13] China
1031 Paper recycling Recovery The first ever recorded reuse of waste paper begins in Japan. Documents and paper are recycled and re-pulped into new paper then sold in local Staples across the country.[5][14][13] Japan
1500s Metal recycling Recovery Spanish copper mines use scrap iron for cementation of copper. This recycling practice survives to this day.[4]
1690 Paper/cardboard recycling Technology introduction The recycled paper manufacturing process is introduced when Rittenhouse Mill, Philadelphia starts manufacturing paper from waste paper and rags.[15][11][5][13][16] United States
1776 Metal recycling Recovery The first metal recycling is produced in the United States when patriots in New York City manage to melt down a statue of King George III and make into 42,088 bullets.[3][15] United States
1800 Paper recycling Technology introduction English papermaker Matthias Koops is granted the first patent for paper recycling. His patent application involves extracting ink from printed and written paper and converting the paper into pulp to make new paper. This process was later adopted by paper mills worldwide."[17] United Kingdom
1813 Textile recycling Technology Benjamin Law develops the process of turning rags into "shoddy" and "mungo" wool, through a process of combining fibres with virgin wool.[4] United Kingdom
1865 General Organization The Salvation Army is founded in London, and begins collecting, sorting and recycling unwanted goods. The Household Salvage Brigades employ the unskilled poor to recover discarded materials. In the 1990s, the organization and its program would migrate to the United States.[18][5] United Kingdom
1874 Paper/cardboard recycling Recovery The first municipal paper recycling in the United States starts in Baltimore, Maryland. A second one opens in New York City in the same year.[17] United States
1884 Glass recycling Recovery An official recycling system for bottles with refundable deposits is established in Sweden.[3] Sweden
1896 General Facility launch An early major recycling center is started by the Benedetto family in New York City, where they collect rags, newspaper, and trash with a pushcart.[19] United States
1897 General Facility launch A materials recovery facility is buit in New York City, where trash is sorted at “picking yards” and separated into various grades of paper, metals, and carpet. Burlap bags, twine, rubber and even horse hair are also sorted for recycling and reuse.[5] United States
1904 Aluminium recycling Facility launch The first large–scale aluminum recyclers are operated in the metalworks of Chicago.[8] United States
1907 Plastic recycling Background The first synthetic plastic Bakelite, is produced. This marks the beginning of the global plastics industry.[20]
1916–1918 General Organization (government agency) Due to massive shortages of raw materials during World War I, the United States Federal government creates the Waste Reclamation Service with the motto “Don’t Waste Waste – Save It.”.[5] United States
1934 General Organization (for-profit) German Recycling and waste management company Remondis is founded.[21] Germany
1939–1945 General Recycling and reusing materials become vital during The Great Depression and World War II, since resources and materials are limited and people can no longer afford to purchase new materials. Recycling and reusing become a symbol of the war, and a way for American’s back home to do their part to help the war effort.[12]
1939–1945 Paper/cardboard recycling Paper recycling efforts resurface during World War II when, due to a major shortage of paper pulp, people are asked to save used paper and rags to make new paper.[17]
1940 Scrap recycling Nylon, elastic, used batteries and various scrap metals are recycled in Europe and the United States to benefit the war effort.[13] Europe, United States
1948 General Organization (non-profit) The Bureau of International Recycling is formed. Headquartered in Brussels, it is considered to be the first federation to support the interests of the recycling industry on an international scale.[22][23][24] Belgium
1948 Timber recycling A 100 meters tall tower of Golm transmitter near Potsdam, Germany is built from recycled timber from old radio towers. The tower would remain intact for 31 years.[25] Germany
1955 (1 August) General Publication Life magazine offers a two-page article on “Throwaway Living”, selling to consumers the idea that single-use items are a necessity of the modern lifestyle. Ease and convenience would soon become the two most desirable qualities in product marketing, inevitably leading to parks, forests and highways becoming littered with garbage.[5] United States
1960 Paper/cardboard recycling Statistics Recycling of paper and paperboard products in the United States is estimated at around 5 million tons.[17] United States
1962 General Literature Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, warning that, when you throw something away, it doesn't really go away.[26] United States
1962 General Organization (non-profit) The United States National Waste & Recycling Association is founded.[27][28][29] United States
1964 Metal recycling Product The aluminum beverage can is introduced and quickly becomes an industry standard.[8]
1965–1970 General Symbol introduction American designer Gary Anderson introduces the symbol for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, inspired in the Möbius strip.[30][5] United States
1968 Aluminium recycling The aluminum industry begins aluminum recycling.[26]
1970 (April 22) Annual event Earth Day is founded in the United States by Senator Gaylord Nelson and globally by entrepreneur John McConnell.[5]
1970 Metal recycling Program launch "Ban The Can" is conceived and executed by Ruth "Pat" Webb as the first post-World War II mass recycling program in the United States in Honolulu, Hawaii. Webb organizes military and civilian volunteers to collect over 9 tons (8,200 kg) of metal cans from the roadways and highways of Oahu. The metal cans were later recycled into steel reinforcement bars to be used in local construction projects."[31] United States
1971 Metal recycling, Glass recycling Policy The Oregon Bottle Bill is passed as a container-deposit legislation in Oregon, requiring cans, bottles, and other containers sold in Oregon to be returnable with a minimum refund value.[32] United States
1972 General Facility The first recycling mill is built in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.[7][5] United States
1973 Plastic recycling Facility An early recycling center for plastic materials is created in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.[13] United States
1974 Kerbside collection Program University City, Missouri starts offering curbside recycling to its residents.[5] United States
1974 Kerbside collection Program The first multi–material curbside recycling program is launched in Canada.[6] Canada
1970s Timber recycling Industry pioneers on the East Coast of the United States begin selling of recycled lumber.[25] United States
1981 General Policy Woodbury, New Jersey becomes the first city in the United States to mandate recycling.[33][4] United States
1983 General Program The blue box recycling system (BBRS) is launched in Canada, initially as a waste management system used by Canadian municipalities to collect source separating household waste materials for the purpose of recycling. The first full-scale community wide BBRS is implemented in the City of Kitchener, Ontario. Today, the blue box system and variations of it remain in place in hundreds of cities around the world.[6] Canada
1983 Blue box recycling system The first full-scale community wide blue box recycling system is implemented by the waste management contractor Ontario Total Recycling Systems Ltd. for the City of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Canada
1983 Automotive oil recycling Policy The Used Automotive Oil Recycling Ac is passed in Washington State, requiring sellers of 100 gallons or more oil per year to post signs on used oil recycling and to identify the nearest oil collection center.[34] United States
1984 Plastic recycling Statistics Plastics recycling tops 100 million pounds in the United States for the first time in the history of plastics recycling.[7] United States
1985–1989 Kerbside collection Program Rose Rowan starts the first kerbside collection service for recyclables.[30]
1986 General Policy Rhode Island becomes the first U.S. state to mandate recycling, including some plastic bottles and containers.[7] United States
1987 Scrap recycling Organization (non-profit) United States-based private, non-profit trade association Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is founded.[35] United States
1988 Kerbside collection Statistics The number of curbside recycling programs in the United States increases to about 1,050.[5] United States
1988 Plastic recycling Recycling code release The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) creates the Resin Identification Code to help recycling programs identify the resin content in plastic waste.[36] United States
1989 General Organization (non-profit) The Center for the Development of Recycling is founded at San Jose State University, California. It works on urban water conservation and recycling projects.[37] United States
1990 General Program The concept of Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is first formally introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist in a report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. EPR is defined as an environmental protection strategy that makes the manufacturer of the appliance responsible for its entire life cycle and especially for the “take-back”, recycling and final disposal of the product.[38] Sweden
1990 Plastic recycling Technology introduction Coca-Cola begins blending recycled plastics into its beverage bottles.[7]
1990s General Single-stream recycling Single-stream recycling is introduced in California, as a system that combines all recyclable items such as paper, plastic, metal, and glass together in a collection truck, rather than being sorted into separate materials and handled separately throughout the entire process.[12]
1991–2011 General Policy More than 70 Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws are enacted in the United States, generally requiring manufacturers to implement EPR programs, though without specifying recycling targets.[39] United States
1991 Packaging Policy Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is adopted in Germany, after the German Packaging Ordinance is passed, extending to producers the responsibility for their products and packaging, beyond production and delivery through to the entire life cycle. Since the adoption, until 1998, the per capita consumption of packaging is reduced from 94.7 kg to 82 kg, resulting in a reduction of 13.4%.[40][41][5] Germany
1991 General Organization The Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) is established, in order to create jobs and benefit the environment through recycling.[18]
1991 Electronic recycling The first electronic waste recycling system is implemented in Switzerland, beginning with collection of old refrigerators but gradually expanding to cover all devices.[42] Switzerland
1991–2017 Tire recycling The stockpile of scrap tires shrinks from over a billion to just 60 million in this period. According to the tire industry, tire recycling is a major success story.[43]
1992 Kerbside collection Policy The number of curbside programs in the United States reaches four thousand, up from just six hundred in 1989. With the rise of curbside recycling, industries abandon many of their buy–back programs and begin to rely largely on municipal services that require them to pay no extra fees.[44] United States
1993 Plastic recycling Organization Brussels-based non-profit European trade association Petcore is founded to promote the collection, sorting and recycling of post-consumer PET bottles.[45] Belgium
1993 General Policy Israel issues its Law for the Collection of Recycling (1993).[46] Israel
1994 Downcycling The term downcycling is first used.[47] It refers to the recycling of waste where the recycled material is of lower quality and functionality than the original material.[48]
1994–2010 Tire recycling Statistics The European Union increases the amount of tires recycled from 25% of annual discards to nearly 95%, with roughly half of the end-of-life tires used for energy, mostly in cement manufacturing.[49] European Union
1995 Aluminum recycling Statistics A record 47.6 billion soft drink containers are recycled in the United States, an increase of 500 million over the previous year. Aluminum cans are recycled at a rate of 63% in the country, with the highest state-wide rate in California at 80%.[5]
1995 Packaging Organization The Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe is founded as the umbrella organization of 31 national producer responsibility systems engaged in the selective collection and recycling of packaging waste.[50] United States
1996 General Statistics Recycling in the United States is rated at 25%, with the United States Environmental Protection Agency setting a new goal of 35%.[5] United States
1996 General Technology Norwegian companies Elopak and SINTEF team up to sell the first infra-red sorting machine.[5] Germany
1996 General Criticism Columnist John Tierney writes in a New York Times Magazine article that “recycling is garbage.” “Mandatory recycling programs […] offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups—politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations and waste handling corporations—while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America.”[51][52] United States
1997 General Program launch America Recycles Day is created on November 15 by the National Recycling Coalition. Every year since then, the President of the United States usually issues a Presidential Proclamation recognizing this day and encourage his fellow Americans to commit to the act of recycling.[53] United States
1997 Mobile phone recycling Program launch The first take back pilot program for mobile phone recycling takes place in Europe. It is run in Sweden and United Kingdom and is executed by member companies of the European Telecommunications and Professional Electronics Industry association., a group consisting of six mobile phone manufacturers.[54] Sweden, United Kingdom
1997 Vehicle recycling Program launch The European Commission adopts a Proposal for a Directive which makes vehicle dismantling and recycling more environmentally friendly, seting clear quantified targets for reuse, recycling and recovery of vehicles and their components and pushing producers to manufacture new vehicles also with a view to their recyclability.[55] European Union
1998 Electronic recycling Policy Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is adopted in Taiwan for electrical and electronic equipment, requiring producers to take back and recycle products such as televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, air–conditioners and computers, regardless of where they are sold.[40] Taiwan
1998 Policy Extended producer responsibility programs (EPR) start being adopted in Switzerland.[56] Switzerland
1998 Waste Organization Ukranian state enterprise Ukrecoresursy launches with the purpose to provide waste recycling services.[57][58] Ukraine
1999 Policy Extended producer responsibility programs start adoption in Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Denmark, Netherlands, Norway
2000 General Study The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms a link between global warming and waste, showing that reducing garbage and recycling cuts down greenhouse gas emissions.[5]
2000 Paper Organization The European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) is set up as an industry self-initiative with the purpose of monitoring progress towards meeting the paper recycling targets set out in the European Declaration on Paper Recycling, which is published the same year.
2000 Organization (non-profit) New Zelander non-profit organization Xtreme Waste is founded. It is dedicated to recycling.[59] New Zealand
2001 Electronic recycling Policy The Home Appliance Recycling Law comes into force in Japan, thus making recycling of waste electrics a legal requirement under the Specific Household Appliance Recycling Law and the Law for Promotion of Effective Utilization Resources. Consumers are required to pay a combined fee for retailers to take back discarded air–conditioners, televisions, refrigerators and washing machines and for producers to recycle them.[40][60] Japan
2001 Policy Extended producer responsibility programs start adoption in Belgium and Sweden. Belgium, Sweden
2001 Metal Organization The British Metals Recycling Association is formed. It represents over 300 organizations working across the British metal recycling sector.[61] United Kingdom
2001 Vehicle recycling Policy China implements its Management Rules of Recycling End-of-Life Vehicles.[62] China
2001 Policy Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is adopted in Japan with three basic laws setting the legal structure, establishing the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), also mandating recycling fees which include consumers.[63] Japan
2001 Plasterboard/drywall recycling Organization Danish company Gypsum Recycling International is founded.[64][65] Denmark
2001 Organization (for-profit) American recycling company TerraCycle is founded.[66] United States
2002 Textile recycling Organization The Carpet America Recovery Effort launches as a joint industry-government non-profit organization whose mission is to develop market-based solutions for recovering value from discarded carpets.[67][68] United States
2002 Glass recycling, Plastic recycling Policy New York City, an early municipal recycling pioneer, eliminates glass and plastic recycling, after finding that the benefits of recycling plastic and glass are outweighed by the price—recycling cost twice as much as disposal.[51] United States
2003 Electronic recycling Policy The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) is passed into European Law. It sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods.
2003 Electronic recycling Policy The California Electronic Waste Recycling Act is signed, establishing a new program for consumers to return, recycle, and ensure the safe and environmentally sound disposal of video display devices, such as televisions and computer monitors, that are hazardous wastes when discarded.[69] United States
2003 Kerbside collection Organization American independent 501(c)3 Curbside Value Partnership[70][71] United States
2003 Waste Organization The Freecycle Network (freecycle.org[1]) launches as a website in Tucson, Arizona. It coordinates a worldwide network of "gifting" groups to divert reusable goods from landfills. The network would grow into nearly 5,000 community-based Freecycle groups in over 85 countries around the world.[72][73][74] United States
2003 Electronic recycling Organization The e-Stewards initiative launches as an electronics waste recycling standard created by the Basel Action Network.[75] United States
2003 Appliance recycling Policy The California Electronic Waste Recycling Act is signed. It establishes a new program for consumers to return, recycle, and ensure the safe and environmentally sound disposal of video display devices, such as televisions and computer monitors, that are hazardous wastes when discarded.[69] United States
2004 Vegetable oil recycling Policy The different Belgian regions impose collection and recycling targets on producers of frying oils and frying fats.[76] Belgium
2005 Single-stream recycling Statistics About a fifth of all communities in the United States with recycling programs use single-stream recycling.[10] United States
2005 Vehicle recycling Policy Japan passes its Automobile Recycling Law, the first in Asia.[77] Japan
2006 Electronic recycling Organization The World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association launches. It is a business consortium dedicated to the reform of the trade of e-waste.[78][79]
2006 Battery recycling Policy The European Union passes the Battery Directive, one of the aims of which is a higher rate of battery recycling. The EU directive states that at least 25% of all the EU's used batteries must be collected by 2012, and rising to no less than 45% by 2016, of which at least 50% must be recycled.[80] European Union
2007 Electronic recycling Policy Five U.S. states pass laws requiring that unwanted electronics be recycled.[5] United States
2007 Plastic recycling Organization Non-governmental organization Trashy Bags is founded in Ghana with the purpose to "contribute to cleaning up the streets of Accra". It turns plastic waste into reusable shopping bags, fashion accessories, school supplies, and other products.[81][82] Ghana
2007 Electronic recycling Organization BuyMyTronics.com launches as an electronics resale business in Denver, Colorado.[83] United States
2008 Paper recycling Program launch The USPS Post Office Box Lobby Recycling program launches in the United States as a project for consumers to recycle paper items, using recycling bins placed in the customer lobbies of post office buildings.[84] United States
2009 Scrap recycling Publication American professor Carl A. Zimring publishes Cash for your trash, one of the first specialized studies about scrap recycling in the United States.[85] United States
2010 Metal recycling Statistics The metal recycling industry generates US$64 billion in the United States in the year.[86] United States
2010 Mobile phone recycling Program launch Nokia introduces mobile recycling programs in Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, Pakistan, Panama, Belarus, Bosnia, Malta, and Ukraine, in order to promote a recycling culture.[54] Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, Pakistan, Panama, Belarus, Bosnia, Malta, Ukraine
2011 Computer recycling Program launch Australia establishes its National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to provide local households and small businesses with access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers, including printers, computer parts and peripherals.[87] Australia
2012 Electronic recycling Statistics More than 585 million pounds of consumer electronics are recycled. This is an increase of 125 million pounds (more than 25%) over 2011.[5]
2012 Single-stream recycling Infrastructure As of year there are 248 materials recovery facilities operating in the United States.[88] United States
2013 Single-stream recycling Statistics As of year, 100 million Americans are served by single-stream recycling programs.[89] United States
2013 Program launch Operation Green Fence launches in China as an effort to start getting exporting countries to clean their recycling, their plastics in particular.[90] China
2014 Textile recycling Statistics Over 16 million tons of textile waste are generated in the United States in the year. Of this amount, 2.62 million tons are recycled, 3.14 million tons are combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons are sent to the landfill.[91] United States
2014 Waste Background About 258 million tons of trash are generated in the United States. 66.4 million tons are cecycled and 23 million tons of this material are composted. A 34.6 percent recycling rate is calculated. On average, Americans recycle and compost 1.51 pounds of their individual waste generation of 4.44 pounds per person per day.[92] United States
2015 Plastic recycling Statistics An estimated 9 percent out of a cumulative 5800 million tons of primary plastic no longer in use is estimated to have been recycled.[20] In the year, an estimated 55 percent of global plastic waste is discarded, 25 percent is incinerated, and 20 percent recycled.[20] Worldwide
2015 Tire recycling Organization (for-profit) New Delhi-based environment sustainability company Tyrelessly is founded. It provides tire Recycling.[93][94] India
2016 General Financial The recycling industry generates revenue volume of US$160 billion throughout the world in the year, and employs around 1.5 million people.[13]
2016 General Study by the United States Recycling Economic Information (REI) finds that in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States account for: 757,000 jobs, U$36.6 billion in wages, and US$6.7 billion in tax revenues. This equates to 1.57 jobs, US$76,000 in wages, and US$14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.[95] United States
2016 Paint recycling Organization Paintback is founded in Australia as an industry-led initiative "designed to divert unwanted paint and packaging from ending up in landfill and vital waterways".[96] Australia
2017 (July) Policy China announces its Operation National Sword.[90] China
2017 Paper/cardboard recycling Statistics The recycling rate in the United States is reported at 65.9%, which is among the highest compared to other materials in municipal solid waste.[17] United States
2018 General Program launch The Global Recycling Day launches on March 18.[97]
2018 Paper/cardboard recycling Statistics Recycling of paper and paperboard products in the United States is estimated to be of approximately 5 million tons.[17] United States
2018 Electronic recycling Product launch Apple Inc. introduces Daisy, a smartphone-recycling robot that can take apart 200 iPhones every hour. About 48,000 metric tons of electronic waste are reported are reported to be diverted from landfills this year.[98]
2018 Paper recycling Organization RecyclePaperZA is established in South Africa.[99] South Africa
2018 (March) Scrap recycling Policy China's Operation National Sword goes into full effect, banning 24 types of scrap and implementing much stricter and more rigorous contamination standards. As a result, local governments and the recycling industry begin to face an unprecedented recycling crisis, especially in plastics.[100][90] China
2019 Program launch America Recycles Day becomes an integral part of the Keep America Beautiful Campaign.[53] United States
2030 Plastic recycling Coca Cola intends to use 50% recycled polyethylene terephthalate in its containers by this year.[9]

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See also


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