Virginia Recycling Association

Waste and Recycling History


The Rittenhouse Mill in Philadelphia opened and began recycling linen and cotton rags. The paper produced from these materials was sold to printers for use in Bibles and newspapers.


As America declares its independence from the English, rebels turn to recycling to provide material to fight the War of Independence.


The Salvation Army was founded in London, England and began collecting, sorting and recycling unwanted goods. The Household Salvage Brigades employed the unskilled poor to recover discarded materials. The organization and its program migrated to the United States in the 1890’s.


In New York City a materials recovery facility was established where trash could be sorted at “picking yards” and separated into various grades of paper, metals, and carpet. Items like burlap bags, twine, rubber and even horse hair were also sorted for recycling and reuse.


Embraced by recycling and reuse advocates, the phrase “Waste as Wealth” was used to describe the revenue to be earned from sorting and reselling items found in household trash.


Chicago and Cleveland opened up the first American aluminum can recycling plants.

1916 TO 1918

Due to massive shortages of raw materials during World War I, the Federal government created the Waste Reclamation Service with the motto “Don’t Waste Waste – Save It.”


Many people survived the Great Depression by peddling scraps of metal, rags and other items.


With the beginning of World War II, combatant countries began national “salvage” campaigns, urging citizens to collect and recycle materials including paper, tin cans, rubber boots, and even kitchen fat (for use in the manufacture of explosives). Tens of thousands of tons of materials were recycled with the help of more than 400,000 volunteers; all in order to save money for the war efforts. All Americans were on board, and most were excited to help aid the troops by conserving and recycling.


Goods such as nylon, rubber and many metals were rationed and recycled to help support the war effort.


When the war ended, prosperity returned. Salvage drives were abandoned and waste began to gain momentum during the postwar period of consumption.


The August 1st issue of Life magazine offered a two-page article on “Throwaway Living.” Consumers were progressively sold on the idea that single-use items are a necessity of the modern lifestyle. Ease and convenience became the two most desirable qualities in product marketing.


The first curbside collections of yard waste, metals, and paper started popping up around the country. Separate waste streams collected at the curb became common place.


The all-aluminum can was introduced. Recognizing the value of used aluminum cans as a raw material for making new cans, the aluminum industry began creating a massive system for recycling and redeeming used beverage containers.

1965 TO 1970

After a Chicago-based recycled-container company sponsored an art contest to raise environmental awareness, Gary Anderson designed the Mobius Loop. It was introduced as the symbol for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.


Founded in the U.S by U.S Senator Gaylord Nelson and globally by entrepreneur John McConnell, the first Earth Day brought national attention to the problem of increasing waste and the importance of recycling. Now, Earth Day is supported by over 192 countries on April 22nd.


The first statewide beverage container deposit law in the United Sates passed in Oregon providing a monetary incentive to recycle.


The first recycling mill was built in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.


University City, Missouri was one of the first municipalities in the country to offer curbside recycling to residents. “The Tree Saver” recycling bin was used for the collection of paper.


The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) awarded the first recycling grants to Massachusetts. The money was used to implement weekly multi-material curbside collection in two cities. They also purchased the first residential recycling truck to use for collecting the recyclables.


Promoted by Mayor Don Sanderson, Woodbury, New Jersey became the first city in the U.S. to mandate recycling. In protest, people threw trash on his lawn. Within three months, Woodbury achieved 85 percent compliance and the program became a national model.


Nationwide recycling participation in America hit ten percent.


Known for its long journey at sea, the Mobro 4000, or commonly called the “Garbage Barge,” left New York Harbor headed to North Carolina with 3000 tons of trash. When North Carolina refused to take the delivery out of fear it contained hazardous waste, the barge cruised up and down the East Coast looking for a place to unload. After five months of finding no place to rid the barge of the waste, it returned to Brooklyn, where it was incinerated. The saga is credited with waking up Americans in regard to waste management and the importance of recycling.


Curbside recycling programs in the U.S. increased to about 1,050.


The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) was formed by a group of individuals committed to expanding state recycling opportunities. The VRA is the only statewide association in the Commonwealth dedicated to recycling and enhancing recycling development opportunities.


The first statewide ban on landfilling recyclable materials went into effect, in Wisconsin in 1993. The ban initially prohibited yard waste in landfills but went on to later include tires, aluminum containers, corrugated paper, polystyrene foam, plastic containers and newspapers.


Starting in California, the concept of “single stream” recycling was introduced in the United States.


Nationwide recycling participation was 30%.


A link between global warming and waste was confirmed by the EPA, showing that reducing our garbage cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.


New York halted glass recycling due to the expense.


New York reinstated glass recycling when landfilling proved to be just as costly as recycling the material.


Initiating the movement e-waste recycling, Dell Computer began offering free recycling service for their products.


Laws are passed in five states requiring unwanted electronics be recycled.


Across the U.S., the number of curbside recycling programs hit 9000 with 34 percent of the total waste being diverted from landfills.


San Francisco claimed an 80 percent landfill diversion rate. A lawsuit charges that the city’s waste contractor, Recology, fudged numbers, in part by improperly classifying certain types of demolition debris. In 2014, a judge ruled that Recology had indeed made false claims about its 2008 landfill figures, and ordered the company to repay to the city a $1.36 million bonus it received for meeting diversion goals.


McDonald replaced their Styrofoam cups with paper ones.


A radical experiment occurred in trash called “One Bin for All” which allowed residents of Houston, Texas, to dispose of all trash, recyclable or not, into one bin. The city’s central sort facility planned to sort all materials. The plan was met with opposition by those who said it was an inefficient way to curb waste long term.


The first of its kind, California enacted a statewide ban on plastic bags in grocery and convenience stores.