Recycling Programs

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Recycling programs comprise three elements in a continuum represented by the "chasing arrows" symbol: collection of recyclable materials from the waste stream, processing the commodities into new products, and purchasing products containing recycled materials. It has been estimated that each office worker in America produces from one-half to one and one-half pounds of solid waste each day, of which 70 to 90 percent is paper. Paper comprises at least 40 percent of American waste, and businesses contribute one-third of the nation's solid waste, For that reason, recycling programs in the business world commonly focus on waste paper. However, corporate recycling programs have come to include other types of waste, including glass, chemicals, oils, plastics, and metals.

Although the word "recycle" was not coined until the late 1960s, recycling has been a trash disposal option for centuries. Native Americans and early settlers routinely reused resources and avoided waste. Materials recovery was also a significant contributor to the United States' World War II effort, when businesses and citizens alike salvaged metal, paper, rubber, and other scarce commodities for military use. But the emergence of the "throwaway society" of the 1950s helped extinguish the recycling impetus. With seemingly unlimited landfill space, disposable and single-use products and packaging became the norm in the ensuing decades. Recycling did not regain popularity until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when environmental concerns became prominent in the "green revolution." The first national Earth Day celebration in 1970 heralded anti-litter campaigns, the creation of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and some municipal and corporate recycling programs.

See also: Environmentalism