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The Cycles of Recycling

The History of Recycling, especially its relationship with the media is a story that is full of changing perceptions. Recycling has progressed significantly since the Chang Dynasty of China began recycling bronze into weapons in 200 B.C., then again, so has the mass media. Here are some of the highlights of their rocky relationship during the last 100 years:

Phase 1: Recycle or Bust!

In 1907 Cosmopolitan Magazine ran an article extolling the manner in which “even/ possible substances we use and throw away come back as new and different material – a wonderful cycle of transformation.

1916-1918: Due to shortages of raw materials during World War I, the federal government creates the Waste Reclamation Service with the motto “Don’t Waste Waste – Save It.”

Phase 2: Use it or Lose It

1955: Life magazine ran a two-page article glorifying the idea that single-use items are necessities of a modern lifestyle. Ease and convenience become the two most desirable qualities in product marketing. A negative side-effect: parks, forests. and highways are littered with trash.

1961: Sam Yorty successfully runs for mayor Los Angeles, promising the eradication of recycling

Phase 3: A Re-commitment

1970: In response to the excess trash being accumulated from plastics, the first Earth Day focuses attention on environmental concerns. Also, recycling’s chasing arrows logo is introduced and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created.

1980: Per capita production of waste reaches 8 pounds per day, up from 5 pounds in 1970

1990’s: More stringent standards for waste use are adopted by governments.

Phase 4?: Re-Design-cycles?

Biological and Technical Cycles

More recently, the book Cradle2Cradle argues that our current philosophy is flawed because our industrial processes produce hybrid “monsters” of man-made and biological goods which don’t actually recycle but down-cycle into less useful materials.

The authors suggest implementing technical and biological production cycles in which a material is either completely biodegradable or completely man-made for industry.

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