Timeline of recycling
This is a timeline of recycling, attempting to describe significant events in the history of this process.
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".
|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. Early Romans are also found to recycle bronze coins into statues that could be sold at a higher monetary value than the original coins. 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.|
|19th Century||Scrap metal is purchased by sold by railroads. "Dustmen" collect ash from coal fires, in order to use it as soil conditioner and for brick–making. The practice is still alive today.|
|20th Century||In the 1930s, many people survive the Great Depression by peddling scraps of metal, rags and other items. Goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals are rationed and recycled during World War II. 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), thus recycling becomes more popular again and drop-off recycling centers are established. In the 1980s, major cities in the United States begin establishing curbside collection programs for plastics and other recyclables. In the 1990s, municipal recycling programs are established throughout the United States and Europe. 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."|
|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.||Europe|
|2000 BC||Metal recycling||Recovery||Composting/Recycling methods, as well as recycling bronze for later use, are developed in China.||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.|
|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.||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.||Japan|
|1500s||Metal recycling||Recovery||Spanish copper mines use scrap iron for cementation of copper. This recycling practice survives to this day.|
|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.||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.||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."||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.||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.||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.||United States|
|1884||Glass recycling||Recovery||An official recycling system for bottles with refundable deposits is established in Sweden.||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.||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.||United States|
|1904||Aluminium recycling||Facility launch||The first large–scale aluminum recyclers are operated in the metalworks of Chicago.||United States|
|1907||Plastic recycling||Background||The first synthetic plastic Bakelite, is produced. This marks the beginning of the global plastics industry.|
|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.”.||United States|
|1934||General||Organization (for-profit)||German Recycling and waste management company Remondis is founded.||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.|
|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.|
|1940||Scrap recycling||Nylon, elastic, used batteries and various scrap metals are recycled in Europe and the United States to benefit the war effort.||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.||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.||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.||United States|
|1960||Paper/cardboard recycling||Statistics||Recycling of paper and paperboard products in the United States is estimated at around 5 million tons.||United States|
|1962||General||Literature||Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, warning that, when you throw something away, it doesn't really go away.||United States|
|1962||General||Organization (non-profit)||The United States National Waste & Recycling Association is founded.||United States|
|1964||Metal recycling||Product||The aluminum beverage can is introduced and quickly becomes an industry standard.|
|1965–1970||General||Symbol introduction||American designer Gary Anderson introduces the symbol for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, inspired in the Möbius strip.||United States|
|1968||Aluminium recycling||The aluminum industry begins aluminum recycling.|
|1970 (April 22)||Annual event||Earth Day is founded in the United States by Senator Gaylord Nelson and globally by entrepreneur John McConnell.|
|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."||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.||United States|
|1972||General||Facility||The first recycling mill is built in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.||United States|
|1973||Plastic recycling||Facility||An early recycling center for plastic materials is created in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.||United States|
|1974||Kerbside collection||Program||University City, Missouri starts offering curbside recycling to its residents.||United States|
|1974||Kerbside collection||Program||The first multi–material curbside recycling program is launched in Canada.||Canada|
|1970s||Timber recycling||Industry pioneers on the East Coast of the United States begin selling of recycled lumber.||United States|
|1981||General||Policy||Woodbury, New Jersey becomes the first city in the United States to mandate recycling.||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.||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.||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.||United States|
|1985–1989||Kerbside collection||Program||Rose Rowan starts the first kerbside collection service for recyclables.|
|1986||General||Policy||Rhode Island becomes the first U.S. state to mandate recycling, including some plastic bottles and containers.||United States|
|1987||Scrap recycling||Organization (non-profit)||United States-based private, non-profit trade association Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is founded.||United States|
|1988||Kerbside collection||Statistics||The number of curbside recycling programs in the United States increases to about 1,050.||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.||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.||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.||Sweden|
|1990||Plastic recycling||Technology introduction||Coca-Cola begins blending recycled plastics into its beverage bottles.|
|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.|
|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.||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%.||Germany|
|1991||General||Organization||The Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) is established, in order to create jobs and benefit the environment through recycling.|
|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.||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.|
|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.||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.||Belgium|
|1993||General||Policy||Israel issues its Law for the Collection of Recycling (1993).||Israel|
|1994||Downcycling||The term downcycling is first used. It refers to the recycling of waste where the recycled material is of lower quality and functionality than the original material.|
|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.||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%.|
|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.||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%.||United States|
|1996||General||Technology||Norwegian companies Elopak and SINTEF team up to sell the first infra-red sorting machine.||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.”||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.||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.||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.||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.||Taiwan|
|1998||Policy||Extended producer responsibility programs (EPR) start being adopted in Switzerland.||Switzerland|
|1998||Waste||Organization||Ukranian state enterprise Ukrecoresursy launches with the purpose to provide waste recycling services.||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.|
|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.||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.||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.||United Kingdom|
|2001||Vehicle recycling||Policy||China implements its Management Rules of Recycling End-of-Life Vehicles.||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.||Japan|
|2001||Plasterboard/drywall recycling||Organization||Danish company Gypsum Recycling International is founded.||Denmark|
|2001||Organization (for-profit)||American recycling company TerraCycle is founded.||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.||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.||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.||United States|
|2003||Kerbside collection||Organization||American independent 501(c)3 Curbside Value Partnership||United States|
|2003||Waste||Organization|| The Freecycle Network (
|2003||Electronic recycling||Organization||The e-Stewards initiative launches as an electronics waste recycling standard created by the Basel Action Network.||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.||United States|
|2004||Vegetable oil recycling||Policy||The different Belgian regions impose collection and recycling targets on producers of frying oils and frying fats.||Belgium|
|2005||Single-stream recycling||Statistics||About a fifth of all communities in the United States with recycling programs use single-stream recycling.||United States|
|2005||Vehicle recycling||Policy||Japan passes its Automobile Recycling Law, the first in Asia.||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.|
|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.||European Union|
|2007||Electronic recycling||Policy||Five U.S. states pass laws requiring that unwanted electronics be recycled.||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.||Ghana|
|2007||Electronic recycling||Organization||BuyMyTronics.com launches as an electronics resale business in Denver, Colorado.||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.||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.||United States|
|2010||Metal recycling||Statistics||The metal recycling industry generates US$64 billion in the United States in the year.||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.||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.||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.|
|2012||Single-stream recycling||Infrastructure||As of year there are 248 materials recovery facilities operating in the United States.||United States|
|2013||Single-stream recycling||Statistics||As of year, 100 million Americans are served by single-stream recycling programs.||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.||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.||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.||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. In the year, an estimated 55 percent of global plastic waste is discarded, 25 percent is incinerated, and 20 percent recycled.||Worldwide|
|2015||Tire recycling||Organization (for-profit)||New Delhi-based environment sustainability company Tyrelessly is founded. It provides tire Recycling.||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.|
|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.||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".||Australia|
|2017 (July)||Policy||China announces its Operation National Sword.||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.||United States|
|2018||General||Program launch||The Global Recycling Day launches on March 18.|
|2018||Paper/cardboard recycling||Statistics||Recycling of paper and paperboard products in the United States is estimated to be of approximately 5 million tons.||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.|
|2018||Paper recycling||Organization||RecyclePaperZA is established in South Africa.||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.||China|
|2019||Program launch||America Recycles Day becomes an integral part of the Keep America Beautiful Campaign.||United States|
|2030||Plastic recycling||Coca Cola intends to use 50% recycled polyethylene terephthalate in its containers by this year.|
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