Did you know that curbside recycling programs have been around for more than 40 years? Check out this timeline of some of the key dates and most important milestones in the history of modern recycling.
1973—It’s not altogether a surprise that the progressive city of Berkeley, California, was where curbside recycling in the US first started. In 1973, the Ecology Center in Berkeley launched a demonstration project that involved the monthly collection of newspapers from homes and residential neighborhoods. Today, the Berkeley program serves as a model for thousands of municipal recycling initiatives all across the country.
1980—Curbside recycling took a big—and efficient—step forward in 1980 with the development of the recycling trailer. Attached to and pulled behind a trash collection truck, the recycling trailer made it possible for sanitation workers to collect and separate garbage and recyclable materials during the collection process. 1980 was also the year in which recycling was first made mandatory in a US jurisdiction—in the city of Woodbury, New Jersey. The move kicked off a nationwide surge of efficient, large-scale recycling programs.
1982—The question of how to encourage consumers to recycle has always been a pressing issue for the recycling industry. In 1982, the first-ever financial incentive for recycling was offered: the New York State Returnable Container Law (more commonly known as the “Bottle Bill”) specified that consumers be reimbursed five cents per empty bottle returned for recycling.
1988—To help address consumer confusion about recyclable materials versus non-recyclable materials, the Society of the Plastics Industry developed a material identification code system in 1988 to be used by the manufacturers of plastic bottles and other plastic products. Still in use today, the national code’s easy-to-identify numbers and symbols provided customers and recyclers alike with a consistent guide to the best recycling practices for different types of plastic materials. 1988 also saw the number of curbside recycling programs in the US rise to more than 1,000.
1989—The importance of using products made from post-consumer recycled material took center stage in 1989, as all 50 states adopted legislation or executive orders favoring recycled paper over paper produced from virgin resources.
1990—At the beginning of the 90s, more than 140 laws mandating recycling were in place across the country. Consumers were also becoming much more aware of the environmental hazards of non-recyclable materials, and were putting pressure on major corporations to limit their use of these types of products. Such efforts could be surprisingly effective: for example, in response to consumer protests over its use of polystyrene, McDonald’s announced that it would discontinue that material in its packaging. The 20th anniversary of Earth Day, with a special emphasis on recycling and buying products made from recycled materials, was also celebrated in 1990.
1991—Recycling moved beyond the domestic sphere and into the domain of public events in 1991. A partnership between the NFL, California’s Department of Conservation, the city of Pasadena, and the Rose Bowl resulted in the first serious recycling effort ever to take place at a public event. And not just any public event, but one of the biggest in the entire country: the Super Bowl XXVII.
1993—Scholars from the University of Central Florida conducted a study investigating the effectiveness of incentivizing recycling; their experiments showed that the use of coupon incentives had a positive influence on participation in aluminum recycling, thus further establishing the value of recycling incentives. 1993 also saw the White House going green, as President Bill Clinton ordered that office paper purchased by federal agencies had to contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer content.
1996-1997—Having achieved its 1988 goal of recycling 25% of America’s solid waste, the Environmental Protection Agency set a new goal of achieving recycling rates of 35% by 2005.
2001—The solid waste company Waste Management expanded the scope of its activities to include residential single-stream recycling, a clear indication that the waste management industry was finally ready to take responsibility for recycling programs.
2003—To address the growing problem of electronic waste, the Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2003 was passed in California. The Act required retailers to maintain a collection and recycling program for used cellular phones at no cost to the consumer.
2009—This was a boom year for the still-developing electronics recycling industry. Some 18 million computers, 11.7 million mobile devices, and 4.6 million television sets were collected for recycling under e-waste programs.
2010—With paper recycling firmly established in the public consciousness (in 2010, paper recycling had increased by nearly 90% since 1990), more and more recycling companies and retailers began to turn their attention to plastics. 2010 saw many leading retailers offering customers incentives to bring their own reusable shopping bags rather than use disposable plastic bags from the store.
2012—By 2012, nearly 40 years after the launch of curbside recycling, drop-off and curbside recycling programs were accessible to more than 87% of Americans.