What is Recycling – and Who Started It?

What Is Recycling – and Who Started It?

Ever wondered what happens to that empty plastic water bottle you carelessly throw away?

Here’s what doesn’t happen to it.

It doesn’t decompose. It doesn’t decay.

It lives almost forever, blocking drainages, causing severe flooding, destroying lives and property, leading to emission CO2, and so on. The vicious cycle never ends.

That one plastic bottle you carelessly dispose of lives a long dangerous life. Not dangerous to itself, dangerous to you.

And when you carefully throw it away in waste bins, what happens?

Ineffective garbage disposal systems ensure that collected waste is merely transferred and dispersed to other locations. Often, these waste materials end up in gutters and block drainage systems, while the more privileged ones end up in dump sites. And the vicious cycle begins.

An alternative is burning; the fumes which are greenhouse gases are taken up by the atmosphere and lo, global warming, climate change acid rain follow.

So how exactly can you change the progression? How can you safely end the life cycle of plastics and other non-decomposable materials?

Simple, you don’t.

You don’t end their life cycle, you recycle them.

Image source: Google images

What is Recycling?

Recycling is the recovery and reprocessing of waste materials to be converted to new products.

When you recycle, you make waste materials that would otherwise be thrown into the thrash useful once again. You put them back into circulation; sort of giving them another chance to be useful, if you like.

The essential phases in recycling include:

  •         gathering and sorting of recyclable waste materials,
  •         their collection or retrieval by individuals or organizations in charge of recycling
  •         processing and manufacturing them into new products.

The gathering and sorting of these products is the most important stage required to start recycling. This is why most recycling ads emphasize that ‘recycling starts with you’.

Examples of materials that are recycled include iron and steel scrap, aluminum cans, glass bottles, paper, e-waste, copper, cotton, and plastics.

Image source: left, Google images. right, Unsplash

Materials reused in recycling serve as substitutes for raw materials obtained from already scarce natural resources like petroleum, gas, coal, mineral ores, and trees.

During recycling, these natural resources used as starting materials or raw materials for production are replaced with waste materials like your used plastic bottles and plates, papers, metal scrap, aluminium cans, etc.

In addition to preserving already scarce natural resources, recycling also reduces the quantities of solid waste deposited in landfills, which has become increasingly expensive.

Recycling has become a huge part of the industrial process, but how did recycling start?

History of Recycling

Image source: Google images

Recycling is nearly as old as man. It dates far back to ancient times. However, the first recorded instance of paper recycling was in 1031 in Japan.

In 1690, America’s first paper mill recycled old fabrics, cloths, cotton and linen to produce recycled paper. In pre-industrial times, there was a sign of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for perpetual reuse. This idea fast became popular among people. 

In Britain, dust and ash from wood and coal fires were collected by ‘dustmen’ and down cycled as base material utilized in brick making which was used for construction.

In 1813, Benjamin Law developed the method of turning rags into ‘shoddy’ and ‘mungo’ wool in Batley, Yorkshire. This material combined recycled fibers with virgin wool.

Industrialization encouraged demand for affordable materials. Apart from rags, ferrous scrap metals were greatly sought after as they were cheaper to accumulate than was virgin ore.

Growing steel and automobile industries purchased scrap within the early 20th century.

Many secondary goods were collected, processed, and sold by peddlers who combed dumps, city streets, and went door to door trying to find discarded machinery, pots, pans, and other sources of metal.

By World War I, thousands of such peddlers roamed the streets of yank cities. They recycled post-consumer materials back to industrial production. 

Image source: Google images

Beverage bottles were recycled with a refundable deposit at some drink manufacturers in Great Britain and Ireland around 1800, notably Schweppes.

An official recycling system with refundable deposits was established in Sweden for bottles in 1884 and aluminum beverage cans in 1982 by law.

This resulted in a recycling rate for beverage containers of 84%–99%. Depending on the type, average use of a glass bottle was over 20 refills.

In World War II recycling was considerably highlighted.

During the war, financial constraints and noteworthy material shortages made it necessary for countries to reuse belongings and recycle materials.

These resource shortages caused by the wars and other world-changing occurrences encouraged recycling.

The struggles of war claimed much of the fabric resources available, leaving little for the civilian population. So it became necessary for many homes to recycle their waste, as recycling offered an additional source of material allowing people to form the foremost of what was available to them.

Huge government promotion campaigns were administered within the population during World War II in every country involved within the war, urging citizens to donate metals and conserve fiber, as a matter of patriotism.

However, recycling did not end with World War II.

Due to rising energy costs, large investments in recycling occurred in the 1970s. For example, recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the total energy required to produce aluminum from scratch (also called virgin production)

In early 1991, recycling electronics such as television became fairly popular. Switzerland implemented the first electronic waste recycling scheme. They started with refrigerators and gradually expanded to cover other electronic devices.

In Asia, demand for electronic waste began to grow when scrap yards found that they could extract useful substances like copper, silver, iron, silicon, nickel, and gold during the recycling process.

In the year 2000 and subsequent years that followed, there was a massive rise in both the sale of electronic devices and their growth as a waste stream. In fact, 2002 saw electronic waste grow faster than any other type of waste in the European Union.

In 2015, the United Nation (UN) General Assembly formulated 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production was ‘to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’. The fifth target of that goal involves substantially reducing waste generation by 2030.

History of Recycling in Nigeria

Have you ever seen men – and sometimes women – sifting through heaps of waste materials in dumpsites and wondered what they’re looking for?

They’re on the hunt for recyclable waste – plastics, papers, cans, metal scrap, etc.

Recycling in Nigeria began with peddlers picking up junk and waste materials and selling or recycling these junks directly to produce useful, resalable materials.

Image source: Google images

Also, many peddlers went around (and still do) with wheelbarrows, prompting people to hand over their out-of-use metal scrap, old clothes and papers, and other waste materials to them.

They collect these waste materials in exchange for money or other more useful materials (‘paaro’).

Over time however, recycling in Nigeria has become somewhat more organized and advanced.

With recycling organizations ensuring that gathering, collection and processing of recyclable waste is easier, more defined, ethical and considerably neater, there is hope that Nigeria’s recycling system will wear a new look.

Image source:Scrapays

One fundamental feature in global recycling history is that it was driven by need.

First, there was the economic advantage of finding recycled feedstock rather than acquiring virgin material. Also, there was a lack of efficient public waste removal in densely populated areas.

Other reasons were financial constraints, scarcity of products and increasing shortage of raw materials for production.

As time went on, a series of problems, like heating, acid rains, deforestation, and the endangerment of varied species reinstated the importance of recycling.

There is still a need for recycling. If anything, the need is greater than ever.

Recycling reduces waste for a safe and healthy environment, and like the ads say:

Recycling starts with you!

Image source: Scrapays

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