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A brief history of recycling in the United States

Recycling is not a new concept.  Prior to the industrial revolution and the advent of the consumer society, reuse of household items was common.  But as our culture morphed from an agriculture-based society to a manufacturing-based one, consumer goods became plentiful and cheap.  By the 1950s Americans’ wasteful ways were beginning to catch up with us and it was becoming apparent that the nation could not continue to absorb the volumes of trash being produced by its citizens. The 1960s and 1970s brought about an era of renewed interest in environmental protection, and the recycling movement was born.

Recycling Timeline


    • The National Environmental Policy Act was passed in part to promote the use of renewable resources and maximize recycling of resources that were being depleted.



    • Oregon is the first state to pass a bottle bill.


    • Berkeley, California is the first municipality to implement curbside recycling.


    • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is passed, promoting “cradle-to-grave management” of solid waste.



    • Municipalities begin experimenting with mandatory recycling legislation.


    • Rhode Island is the first state to pass state-wide mandatory recycling.


    • The garbage barge Mobro leaves Long Island carrying 3,000 tons of trash, only to return 57 days later failing to have found a home for its load.  The term   Garbage Crisis is coined.


    • The focus of the RCRA shifts to integrated solid waste management, which includes four primary components: 

source reduction


combustion (waste-to-energy)



    • The focus of the RCRA shifts from enforcement and mandates to more voluntary actions. 

    • The recycling movement continues to gain momentum and support and businesses become involved in the effort.

    • EPA launches the WasteWise program, whose mission is to cultivate partnerships between local governments, businesses and non-profit groups to promote recycling, reuse and solid waste reduction.


    • Despite the focus on ‘going green’ national recycling rates remain static.


    • Americans are producing approximately 4 pounds of garbage per person per day.

    • The number of curbside recycling programs in the U.S. tops 9,000, serving more than half the population of the country.

    • WasteWise grows to more than 2700 members.

    • Many states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York have little remaining landfill space and are forced to export their garbage.

    • The national recycling rate is still only 33.8%, one of the lowest among industrialized countries.

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  1. Posted December 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I cannot tell a lie, that really helepd.

  2. Posted November 17, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Great! thanks for the share!

    • Posted December 14, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      It’s wonderufl to have you on our side, haha!

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