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The Intriguing History of Recycling

There’s been an increasing focus on the importance of recycling during recent years, with the global drive to reverse people’s harmful impact on the environment. However, the process of transforming waste into new items and materials is far from new. From ancient times to the present, let’s look at the key developments in the history of recycling.

Recycling in Ancient Times

People are known to have recycled items as long ago as the 4th century, with the famous philosopher Plato recognising and promoting the value of re-using and re-purposing waste. However, the first recorded evidence of recycling dates to the 9th century in Japan. Thought to be particularly precious, recycled paper was used for painting and poetry by the Japanese people.

Ancient civilisations are also known to have adopted these recycling practices:

  • Using ash to make bricks and enrichen soil for vegetable growing
  • Melting and mixing broken pottery for the creation of new pots
  • Using discarded bones as knives and ornamental jewellery.

The Industrial Revolution & Emergence of Consumerism

Recycling became more common practice during the 19th century, with European countries forced to recycle as a means of limiting the build up of consumer waste. The forward-thinking Benjamin Law developed the “shoddy” (also known as mungo) process in 1813, mixing worn rags and fibers with virgin wool for the creation of more usable cloth.

These recycling practices also emerged in the 19th century:

  • Bottle recycling, with some companies offering financial incentives
  • Melting scrap, for molding into new metal items
  • Collection and processing of used goods for sale by peddlars.

 Wartime & the Birth of Modern Recycling

There was an obvious need for innovation in the management of waste during the first and second world wars. Material shortages resulted in the governments of America and the United Kingdom encouraging the public to reuse and recycle where possible. Large numbers of volunteers were called for the collection of tin, rubber, steel, paper, and other recyclable materials, with saved money being used to fund international war efforts.

Recycling campaigns continued, with these key events leading up to the 21st century:

  • The first Earth Day in 1970, raising awareness of the harmful environmental impacts of waste and the value of recycling
  • Development of the world-famous ‘chasing arrows’ recycling symbol by an American student
  • The first use of a bottle bank in 1977, with the emptying of bottles and jars continuing to the present day
  • The provision of blue bins for the separate collection of plastic, paper, glass, aluminium, steel, and other recyclable materials

Modern-day Recycling

There has been growing international recognition of the importance of recycling up to the present day, with new laws passed for the processing of the ever-increasing levels of e-waste. A new initiative was introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, specifying a range of eco-friendly targets including the wider adoption of “sustainable consumption and production patterns” and a substantial reduction in waste generation by 2030.

Fully appreciating the importance of recycling, Bioganix has been helping to make the world a greener place since our original corporation in 2004. Our processes have continued to evolve based on changing environmental demands, with our expertise in the processing of food and beverage waste for delivery into anaerobic digestion, organic agricultural fertilisers, and extraction of oils for incorporation of bio-fuels or generation of power.

If you’d like to have a chat about the range of waste management services offered by Bioganix then give us a call on 01652 637803 or email

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