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The History of Metal Recycling

Posted on 18 July 2016

Global warming and environmental issues no longer seem like distant problems. They are now real, and undeniably affecting the world we live in today. Nowadays, recycling is recognized as one of the key ways to salvage our beloved planet before it is too late. The good news is that because of the ever-innovating  technology becoming available, the notion of sorting, reprocessing, and reusing our waste is becoming more convenient and profitable than it ever has before. Nonetheless, recycling, especially metal recycling, used to be unheard of, let alone practiced due to the lack of electricity, technology, and proper techniques. It is worth investigating the history of metal recycling to measure how far our recycling techniques have progressed.


First ever known recycling procedure was recorded by the Japanese. They recycled and re-pulped waste paper and re-sell the recycled paper into local shops. Metal has been re-molded and recycled by soldiers or blacksmiths to make weapons for hundreds of years before this period but no exact date was ever recorded.


America declares independence from the British and recycle wastes for materials to be used during the War of Independence. For example, Blacksmith Paul Revere was known to recycle all kind of scrap metals to produce armaments.


During the gold rush, the needs for metal cans to preserve food increase. Many early entrepreneurs end up collecting and reselling any scrap metals that they can find. The US canning business went into a boom, producing up to 35 million cans per year.


The concept of recycling, also known as “Waste to Wealth” becomes widely accepted and embraced. The public in North America has realized that it is much cheaper to reuse some materials than buying a new one. Many households resort to sorting and reselling items found on their daily trash.


The first industrial American aluminum can recycling plant opens in Cleveland and Chicago.

1916-1918 (World War 1)

The government launches a widespread recycling campaign to overcome shortage of materials during the on-going war. Ms. Othomen Stevens rallies an ambitious tin foil collection for metal recycling, becoming the sole ambassador from the Red Cross Salvage Bureau.


First commercial aluminum cans used for beverages are manufactured by a brewery in Newark, New Jersey.

1939 – 1945 (World War 2)

Recycling breakthrough happened during World War 2. As financial and materials constraints were rampant, war efforts required many materials, especially metal and clothing, to be recycled and rationed. Recycling metal was seen as a patriotic act as these metals will be molded into armaments or supplies for the soldiers in the overseas frontline.

1946 – early 1960s

After the shortage of material is over, recycling became last popular. Landfilling was invented and became popular after it was known as a cheaper way to dispose trash.

Late 1960s

Recycling resurges as environmental movement started in late 1960s. The environmentalists raise public awareness about environmental issues that were caused by industrialization and mass productions.


Recycling became popular again; drop-off recycling centers were established all around America. Universal symbol for recycling, the Mobius loop, was designed by Gary Anderson when he entered a design contest for a Chicago-based recycling company.

1980s -1990s

Curbside recycling projects are initiated to allow centralized recycling movement. Both America and Canada push for high beverage container recycling rate; both countries also create regulations that mandate recycling for metals, glass, plastics, and newspapers where different recyclable must be separated from their trash.


The first Canadian curbside recycling project was initiated in Kitchener with up to 1,500 residents participating.


A second curbside recycling project was started in Mississauga, Ontario. It was known as the largest recycling initiative in North America then.


The correlation between global warming and waste has been confirmed and proven scientifically. Many countries are urged to cut down greenhouse gas emissions and waste productions.

2000s – 2010s

Many innovations and initiatives have been undertaken to encourage metal recycling all over the world. For example, Dell offered a free recycling service for their products, sparking e-waste recycling initiatives by multinational companies.
Tal Metal is a Toronto-based metal trading company that specializes in scrap metal recycling. We believe that metal recycling is crucial for the environment and energy conservation. With our two decades of experiences, we provide the best value and service possible to our customers and recyclers. If you are looking to sell or buy any recycled metal, feel free to give us a call at 905-660-7081.

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