The history of recycling

2021-03-09 15:23:52

Pre-Industrial wastes consisted of bones, ash and vegetable matter, easily recycled into compost. Disposal sites were used to get rid of broken pottery and broken tools. With localised small populations, many materials were recycled and re-used, rather than simply being disposed of. It wasnt until the Industrial revolution that centralisation of industry allowed for more formal recycling methods to be developed. 

The collection of waste and it is recycling was heavily driven by industry during the 19th century. The collection of ash from coal fires in Cities throughout the UK was commonplace, with the material being used in the production of bricks. At the end of the 19th century, waste paper and board collections were implemented, allowing for the mass production of more competitively priced newspapers. Daily collections of waste from households became a commonplace event throughout the UK during the latter part of the 19th century, allowing for sorting, recovery and resale of many different materials. 

However, the recycling of textiles and leather, which was commonplace pre-industrial revolution, virtually disappeared during the late 20th century, where the introduction of intensive farming, globalisation and mass production resulted in new goods costing less than the labour assoicated with recycling them. In addition, Landfill, a concept first introduced by the ancient Greeks became a cost effective alternative to recycling for our growing populations during the 20th Century, where mass production resulted in extremely low cost goods entering the market. This was further hampered by the development of containerised shipping, labour costing less in developing countries than the Western World and the cost of raw materials no longer being a significant factor to industry. 

Changes to the UKs waste management industry did not start until the second half of the 20th century. These changes did not reflect recycling methods, but rather aimed to target waste itself and became a driving factor in the use of and construction of Landfill sites. Such legislation resulted in what we currently see to be weekly bin collections or waste collections, which are sent direct to landfill. The rag and bone man, who traditionally collected many types of waste to recycle it was in effect cut out of the loop. 

Having been a factor in the original waste problem during the latter half of the 20th century, the UKs government set about reducing waste and improving recycling. Landfill tax levies, combined with easier licencing laws aimed to divert waste away from landfill and develop localised small recycling companies, which could deal with specific forms of waste, turning it back into a raw resource. 

Many types of recycling companies now exist, from paper shredding and recycling companies to car dismatling companies and IT disposal companies. However, none of these businesses would be viable if it wasnt for the industry that needs these recycled materials. From Aluminium to Gold, Steel and copper, small recycling companies extract these raw products from the wastes, with the aim to selling them back onto industry. Many of these small businesses are extremely labour intensive, such as the IT disposal companies, which have to extract virtually every component in order to recover costs. Similarly, car disposal companies need to recover costs assoicated with transportation and overheads through the removal and recovery of platinum bearing catalytic convertors, lead/acid batteries and cast aluminium gearboxes. 

As the recycling industry continues, once again to grow, so do the methods used by larger companies in the recovery of materials. From the point of disposal, where larger consumer goods are seperated, to shredding, shearing and floatation tanks, the aim is to recover as many valuable materials as possible. Again, the IT disposal industry highlights the novel techniques used in recovery from wastes. Many larger companies are using smelting followed by electo-plating techniques to remove the various metals from circuit boards. This is made viable by commodity prices, which have remained at such high prices as to allow for significant financial investment. However, by contrast is the concern in the investment made on the back of high commodity prices.