A Brief History of Recycling in the UK

Recycling has become an important part of everyday lives, with most people understanding why we do it and the benefits for the environment. But when did it all start in the UK? Recycling is now second nature to most of us, but it wasn’t always that way.

How did it all begin?

Recycling actually dates back much further than we would imagine. Humans have always engaged in recycling of some kind. Re-using, handing down and repurposing were a part of life before industrialisation and the growth of commercialism. However, recycling as we know it today, with different bins for different things has a more recent timeline.

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In 1970 we celebrated the first ever Earth Day to highlight problems of environmental concern, including waste and recycling. However, recycling had begun far earlier than 1970. Evidence found by archaeologists suggests that glass was recycled in the city of Sagalassos, part of the ancient Byzantine Empire in 330 AD. The Romans also recycled their bronze, so that old coins could be used to make statues, sold for more money than the original coins were worth.

Paper began to be recycled in the 19th century, when demand far exceeded supply due to the increasing popularity of books. By the beginning of the 20th century, books were purchased at auctions so that the fibre could be recycled into newspapers. Then paper was made from old linen rags.

Ideas of re-using and recycling came to the fore again after the Second World War, when materials and food were still suffering from shortages. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s, however, that recycling really took off and became a common household activity. When hiring a skip, you can be confident that your hire company will recycle as much of your waste as possible, so even though it’s junk to you, it won’t get dumped in the landfill. For Swansea Skip Hire, visit Pendragon Skips.

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During the 1960s, drinks companies offered money back for customers who returned their glass bottles. Charities in particular benefited from a revenue of thousands of pounds when they carried out a bottle collection drive. Kids also used this as a handy source of pocket money revenue during the 1970s and 80s. The first bottle bank in the UK was opened on 6th June 1977 in a recycling facility in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Many consecutive governments have tried to tackle issues such as controlling pollution since the industrial revolution, but it wouldn’t be until 2001 that specific legislation relating to recycling were made. It was 2003 that the Household Waste Recycling Act came into being in the UK. This law stated that all local authorities had to provide every household with individual collections for at least two kinds of recyclable materials by 2010.