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|RECYCLING HISTORY||Published: 09/02/09|
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Although recycling may seem like a modern concept introduced with the environmental movement of the 1970s, it's actually been around for thousands of years. Prior to the industrial age, you couldn't make goods quickly and cheaply, so virtually everyone practiced recycling in some form. However, large-scale recycling programs were very rare -- households predominantly practiced recycling.
The mass production of the industrial age is, in many ways, the very reason we need to worry about large-scale recycling. When products can be produced (and purchased) very cheaply, it often makes more economic sense to simply throw away old items and purchase brand new ones. However, this culture of "disposable" goods created a number of environmental problems, which we'll discuss in detail in the next section.
In the 1930s and 40s, conservation and recycling became important in American society and in many other parts of the world. Economic depressions made recycling a necessity for many people to survive, as they couldn't afford new goods. In the 1940s, goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals were rationed and recycled to help support the war effort. However, the economic boom of the postwar years caused conservationism to fade from the American consciousness It wasn't until the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s, heralded by the first Earth Day in 1970, that recycling once again became a mainstream idea. Though recycling suffered some lean years -- due to public acceptance and the market for recycled goods not growing -- it has generally increased from year to year The success of recycling traces to wide public acceptance, the improved economics of recycling and laws requiring recycling collections or enforcing recycled content in certain manufacturing processes.
Recycling Innovation: Landfill Golf Courses
What if you could recycle an entire landfill, filled with millions of tons of garbage? That's been accomplished in many places, where the landfill is capped with earth, planted with vegetation and turned into a golf course. Mountain Gate Country Club near Los Angeles is just one example.
One other way to recycle landfills involves capturing methane gas let off by decomposing garbage and using it to generate energy. Another is reusing old landfill pits -- where all the garbage has decomposed -- by filling it with garbage again.
Benefits of Recycling
Most of the reasons we recycle are environmental, although some are economic. These include:
Too Much Garbage
One of the main reasons for recycling is to reduce the amount of garbage sent to landfills. Landfill usage peaked in the 1980s, when Americans sent almost 150 million tons (136.08 million metric tons) of garbage to landfills each year. Today, we still dump more than 100 million tons (90.719 million metric tons) of trash into landfills annually Even though modern sanitary landfills are safer and less of a nuisance than the open dumps of the past, no one likes having a landfill around. In heavily populated areas, landfill space is scarce. Where space is plentiful, filling it with garbage isn't a very good solution to the problem. Today, recycling efforts in the United States divert 32 percent of waste away from landfills. That prevents more than 60 million tons (54.432 million metric tons) of garbage from ending up in landfills every year.
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