The History of Recycling in America Is More Complicated Than You May Think

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Media Outlet: The Time

Bartow Elmore wrote for Time about the history of recycling in the US:

As environmentally conscious Americans mark America Recycles Day on Tuesday, many may assume that recycling is a product of the environmental movement of the 1970s, the decade that saw the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But, though that time was an important turning point in the history of the idea, recycling in America goes back much further than that. In fact, some experts suggest that it worked better before the 1970s than it does today.
If creative reuse counts as recycling, people have been doing that for millennia—but early American recycling systems go back to the colonial era, when new materials were hard to come by. For example, metal was a scarce commodity at the time, says Carl Zimring, an environmental historian and professor at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.—which is why Paul Revere would have had a scrap-metal yard. It's likely that the horse he rode to announce that the British were coming was wearing horseshoes made out of what he collected, argues Zimring.

Author:

Bartow Elmore is an Eric & Wendy Schmidt Fellow at New America. He is an assistant professor of environmental history at The Ohio State University and a member of their Sustainable and Resilient Economy Discovery Group.