Walk Down Memory Lane: A History of Plastic Recycling

Walk Down Memory Lane: A History of Plastic Recycling

By AAA Polymer | Plastics Recycling

Feb 24

The history of plastic recycling began well before the first piece of plastic was repurposed. To truly understand the history of plastic recycling, we must start at the rise of the industrial revolution in the 18th century, which completely altered the course of human history. The standard of living increased, there was a rapid evolution in medicine and job opportunities skyrocketed for people in rural areas. While the industrial revolution led to countless benefits, it also resulted in the generation of waste: lots of it. 

The population boom associated with this new chapter in history has created so much trash, we literally didn’t know what to do with it. In the beginning, we allowed it to swell in landfills, buried it underground, burned it or just dumped it into the ocean. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then.

Although we still have work to do, innovations in recycling have helped us close the recycling loop more and more through the decades since. One of the biggest game-changers was the introduction of plastic recycling. Overall, it has had one of the biggest, most profound effects on our waste system. 

AAA Polymer is proud to be a part of the history of plastic recycling. We are even more proud of the leadership role we've taken to make plastic recycling feasible for several warehouses and distribution centers throughout the area. Let's take a look at the history of plastic recycling to see how far we've come and how bright the future is for the industry. 

The History of Plastic Recycling: The Origin of Plastic

In 1907, the Belgian-born American chemist Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the world’s first fully synthetic plastic. He was the first individual who coined the term, and it’s thanks to him thay plastic is a part of our world today. Its high resistance to electricity and insulating properties made it popular in the automotive industry, but it was also used in other products such as frying pans and jewelry.

Fast forward to 1950, and we come across the Canadian inventor Harry Wasylyk. Together with Larry Hansen, they were able to create a waterproof, stretchy plastic known as polyethylene. Harry made his first plastic trash bags in his kitchen and supplied them to Winnipeg General Hospital to use as liners for garbage cans. Following his invention, plastic started to gain more momentum.

In 1959, Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin made the prototype for what would inevitably become the plastic bag we are accustomed to seeing today. They were developed as an alternative to the widespread use of paper bags, which were losing popularity at the time due to their contribution to deforestation. Little did he know, he was about to open a whole new bag of worms.

A History of Plastic Recycling: Changing Opinions

In the 1960s, people began to become aware of the potential risks involved with the use of plastic. America was in the middle a radical paradigm shift sweeping the country and changing all aspects of everyday life. It included a change in opinion of the Vietnam War, civil rights and environmental concerns.

The types of plastic bags as we know them today were made by the Swedish company Cellopast in 1965, who were able to mainstream their product globally. Even with resistance from environmental activists, plastic bags were starting to become the new norm. As the 1960s came to an end and public opinion continued to shift, something needed to be done to quench the distaste for plastic that was starting to bubble to the surface.

A History of Plastic Recycling: Recycling to the Rescue

The first plastic waste recycling mill was created in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania in 1972, becoming the blueprint for all future recycling plants. Over time, government programs and environmental activists started educating people about the habits of recycling and forced manufacturers to produce plastic that was easier to recycle. These efforts paid off with the adoption of HDPE and PETE plastic in the 1980s, which were designed with recycling in mind.

This was around the same time major cities across America were starting to create recycling programs of their own. In 1984, an astonishing 100 million pounds of plastic was gathered nationwide, a milestone in the history of plastic recycling.

In 1988, the closed-loop triangular symbol to identify plastic resin in packaging was adopted and quickly became a popular symbol for recycling. As the 20th century started to wind down, more efforts around the country from manufacturers and consumers alike helped recycling become a central part of American culture.

A History of Plastic Recycling: Brave New World

The 21st century has continued the trend of the 1990s, with recycling becoming an ever more important factor in how Americans operate and dispose of their waste. Today, a growing number of warehouses and distribution centers are cashing in on the amazing financial and environmental benefits of recycling.

Because warehouses and distribution centers use massive amounts of recyclable stretch films and stretch wraps, they are recognizing the tremendous savings by removing these plastic scraps from their waste flow. Stretch film recycling programs are saving businesses money by reducing the hauling of the trash to the disposal site and reducing the tipping fee charged at the disposal site. At the same time, several new plastic recycling and recovery initiatives are popping up every day to give used plastics a new life.

Contact AAA Polymer Today for Stretch Film Recycling

At AAA Polymer, we are a leading stretch film and stretch wrap recycler. We work closely with warehouses, distribution centers, and similar businesses to create real savings and make a real environmental difference.

Looking to learn more about plastic stretch film recycling? Don't hesitate to reach out to the team at AAA Polymer today.

About the Author

Save $1000s with a smarter commercial recycling program

x