50 years ago, recycling as we know it today, wasn’t really a mainstream concept that many people considered. Most people would naturally reuse and repair items rather than just throw them away as in today’s society. However, we have to go farther back to the early 1900’s for the earliest evidence of mass recycling. At the turn of the century, books had become popular, so printing companies started to recycle old books, using the recycled paper to make new books.
Fast forward to the 1960’s where we can really trace back to the roots of modern recycling, when drinks companies started to offer money back for the return of glass bottles. This trend continued through the 70’s and 80s as charities used bottle drives to raise money and savvy school kids collected bottles to boost their pocket money.
Many people would regard 1970 as the year that recycling became a mainstream idea with the creation of the now famous recycling symbol and the first ever Earth Day becoming popularised by the environmental movement of the 60’s. in 1972 the first plastic recycling plant opened in the USA and modern recycling was born.
Over the next 30 years Recycling became less about reusing products to get the most out of them, and more about necessity due to the amount of waste being produced. As the 20th century came to a close we had shifted to a throwaway society and with products becoming cheaper it was more cost effective to buy new, rather than to fix anything. The trouble is, this isn’t a sustainable model as more and more waste is dumped into landfills and our oceans every year.
The UK has seen a massive shift in the last 20 years, in the year 2000 household recycling rates were at just 11%, and by 2017 this was at 44.9%. This is an amazing shift in the just 17 years but it still isn’t enough of a shift to tackle our waste problems and hit the target of 50% by 2020. According to a 2016 report from the environment agency, the UK is set to run out of landfill space by 2024. This is now just 5 years away and counting. We need a better solution to just burying our waste, and our heads, in the dirt.
Now China has closed its doors to many types of waste and with the exit from the EU looming we are looking at a major waste disaster over the next few years. What happens now is up to the next generation to make changes and solve the crisis. Government imposed fines and levies on all non-recyclable materials as well as making manufacturers and retailers responsible for the packaging and waste they produce would be a good start. And new technology such as landfill mining could avert the crisis