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Who Invented Recycling

Recycling has become a natural habit in many of our likes. We have grown accustomed to setting aside our soda pop cans and bottles – as well as much of our plastic waste – in order to become more prudent with our environmental concerns and reduce the amount of overall waste. But who invented recycling?

The truth is that advent of recycling cannot be attributed to any one person. Some have argued that recycling was established from necessity. Around 10,000 BCE, garbage became an issue as humans established permanent settlements. Thousands of years later (approximately 400 BCE), the first municipal dump was established in Athens, Greece. Romans created the first sanitation force around 200 CE, which was made up of two men who walked the city streets loading garbage into a wagon. It wasn’t until 1388 that the English Parliament declared it unlawful to dispose of waste in public streets.

Over time, numerous products have been invented — as we have become more technologically-advanced) — that ultimately serve to drain and pollute the environment. Paper, plastics and metals are the three main recycling categories. These also happen to be the source of most of the non-chemical pollution on earth. Other products, such as Styrofoam, are not only wasteful, but toxic. Many companies have eliminated or significantly reduced the amount and types of Styrofoam used because of this.

Recycling came into play around 1690 when the Rittenhouse family of Philadelphia established the first paper recycling mill on the Wissahickon Creek. Metal was not recycled in America occurred in 1776, when patriots in New York City melted a statue of King George III to make bullets.  Incineration of collected trash began in Nottingham, England in 1874. The United State’s first incinerator was put into use on Governors Island in New York Harbor in 1885. Soon after, in 1897, New York’s first recycling center is established. By 1904, massive amounts of aluminum began to be recycled in Chicago and Cleveland. The Fresh Kills landfill was opened on Staten Island in 1948. It later became the world’s largest city dump. This landfill and the Great Wall of China are the only man-made objects visible from space.

By 1965, the United States government recognized a growing problem in the way garbage was being handled. The Solid Waste Disposal Act was instituted to help alleviate the problem. A few years later, the aluminum industry began recycling discarded aluminum, which included everything from beverage cans to window blinds. The first Earth Day was celebrated April 22, 1970, which introduced the concept of recycling to the public. The same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was established. The city of San Francisco met its goal of recycling a quarter of its waste in 1986. At the same time, Rhode Island became the first state to institute mandatory recycling laws for aluminum and steel cans, glass, newspapers, then later #1 and #2 plastics. McDonald’s announced they would stop using Styrofoam packaging in 1990 due to consumer protests. Similarly, Coca-Cola and Pepsi began using 25% recycled plastic resin in their bottling.

No one person can be named as the inventor of recycling. We should instead view recycling as a collaborative effort with our neighbors — both here in the United States and around the world — to help our planet sustain us as long as possible.