Activism History: Recycling


Image by: Fast Company 

Ask yourself: How long have humans practiced recycling? 40 years? 100 years? Think as early as the Classical era around 400 BC—maybe even further to the early hominids! While it may seem that recycling is a fairly modern phenomenon, the idea of recycling for environment is one that has only arisen in the late 20th century.

Recycling began when early humans began to take a sedentary lifestyle and consequently accumulate waste. Even though refuse would be set aside for aesthetic reasons, few recycling efforts were made but only by the underprivileged and in times of economic need.

A chief example of when recycling was practiced in times of economic need was during World War II. Scarce virgin materials such as metals were collected and recycled by the government for the manufacture of key strategic materials. However, after WWII, the collective recycling effort ended as well. America saw a shift in the economy and change in the attitude of consumers—every thing had to be new. The rise of the disposable industry in 1950s-60s altered the desirable qualities Americans wanted to buy to convenience and disposability.

1960s was also a period of uncovering the effects of discarded toxins in the land, air and water. The environmental movement is born, the first Earth Day was organized and recycling for reasons other than subsistence was undertaken for the first time in American history.

Recycling is just one of many ways that we can help the environment. Harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases from pollution and trash are not only released to the public but are also harming our forests that are needed for raw materials that we can preserve.

Some things we can do in order to reduce landfill and decrease pollution are to first, divide which waste is trash and which is recyclable. By doing so, this will reduce pollution in landfills as well as releasing less carbon in the atmosphere. Another way of helping our planet is to buy products with either less packaging or eco-friendly packaging in order to cut down on waste. Every step that we take, however big or small, is one more move towards helping and supporting the environment in which we live.

Environmental Activist, Michael Superson and Donna Gibson , are both great examples of people who chose to make a difference in our environment. They were both chosen as “Outstanding Recycler of the Year” in 2013 at America Recycles Day. Michael owned a business where he operated a recycling program for cardboard and plastic for more than 20 years. In addition, he established a composting program for food waste. Normally, food waste would have gone to a landfill.

Donna, on the other hand, played a major role in her community by educating her fellow residents on what items to recycle and made it a personal challenge to make an effort to reduce the amount of trash she produced in her everyday life. Her technique to reduce waste was to see how many times she could use the same item before throwing it out. Her approach with every item she used was “It’s not garbage till you throw it away”. Behaviors such as using the other side of mail for scrap paper, rinsing out plastic bags for re-use, making things herself instead of buying new items, using rug scraps to make floor mats for her car were some of the behaviors she changed in her personal home. To help our environment, simple steps such as changing our behaviors will create habits that will have positive impacts.






Strong, Debra L. Recycling in America a Reference Handbook. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1997. Print.


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