Think We Pioneered Recycling? Think Again
The drive to recycle and upcycle all our unwanted goods is not a new thing, far from it. In fact, our ancestors were repairing, recycling, and reusing materials as far back as the Stone Age. People often made small flint tools from old axes, and ground down old ceramics and pottery to make pots and the material that houses were made from at the time.
Our throwaway society
All the way up to the 20th century, people reused or repaired materials as a matter of course, until our ‘throwaway society’ was shaped by the availability of cheap goods from China. We have readily available access to a multitude of goods that other generations didn’t have, and because we have so much, we became wasteful.
Recycling in Prehistoric times
Around 2500BC, people started to mix copper and tin to make bronze. This was a big societal change. To make bronze, materials had to be transported over long distances, and thus the first materials trading on a large scale started.
Bronze became valuable, as people began to realise that it could be melted down to make another item, if the original item was broken, for example. This couldn’t be done with traditional materials like stone.
Bronze was soon being recycled all over Europe. Archaeologists found a ship wreck off Dover which contained a huge amount of French bronze items which would have been destined for recycling in England.
The first circular economy
The recycling of bronze in the Bronze Age was the first real example of a circular economy at work. It was a valuable material, and so it was often melted down and remoulded into other items when the original item was damaged or no longer needed.
What can we learn from the Bronze Age? That a circular economy worked at a time when society did not have the infrastructure or technology that we have, so we are perfectly placed to use our resources, and some inspiration from the past, to develop innovations in sustainable and recyclable goods.