The history of recycling goes back a long way; the practice has been around for thousands of years, as early as 400 B.C.
Prior to the industrial revolution, recycling and general household re-using was actually a commonplace practice. Before mass production flooded the market with loads of materials and products, it was generally cheaper to reuse items as opposed to buying new ones.
Recycling took a turn during the times of industrialization. As it became easier and cheaper to produce goods (through technological innovation and mass production), it also became easier and sometimes cheaper to throw used items away.
World War II
Financial constraints and massive material shortage due to war efforts made it necessary for our ancestors to reuse goods and recycle materials. The war efforts demanded much of the resources, leaving little for the home front. Some items (metal, rubber, and certain food items) had to be rationed, as they were needed overseas at the warfront. There was a general patriotism in recycling then.
When the war ended, resource conservation programs established during the war were continued in some countries without an abundance of natural resources, such as Japan. However, for other countries such as the U.S., recycling efforts were largely forgotten. Landfilling became a cheap way to dispose trash and recycling was less popular.
The First Earth Day was observed on April 22, 1970. Recycling became more popular again and drop-off recycling centers were established. The environmental movement had started in the 60s, and there was greater public awareness and rising environmental consciousness. The increased interest in recycling in the 70s was also a result of rising energy costs. Significant savings were achieved through recycling. In the early 70s, Rose Rowan started the idea of towing a recycling trailer behind a waste management vehicle to collect trash and recyclables at the same time. This lead to the introduction of curbside collection in the late 80s and 90s.
The first city to mandate recycling was Woodbury, NJ. Other towns and cities soon followed suit and today, many U.S. cities require residents to recycle a variety of items.