The History of Metal Recycling

Roane Metals Scrap Metal

The History of Metal Recycling

We all know that there are infinite benefits to recycling your old scrap metal. It’s cleaner for the environment, significantly more cost-effective than mining, and can help to develop a more sustainable economy over time. Though obviously advantageous, it might surprise you to know that the concept of metal recycling is by no means new. The process of utilizing old or worn-out materials to create entirely new ones has been used since biblical times! Let’s take a look back through the history of metal recycling and find out why even our most ancient civilizations felt that scrap recycling was the most efficient use of their resources.

Ancient Recyclers:

There are several known records of ancient peoples utilizing the ideas associated with scrap metal recycling. Even the Bible mentions the process in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, saying, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

The Romans were also known for recycling their metal, remaking old coins into new bronze statues. It was believed that recycled statues would have more value than the coins that they were made of. Additionally, the different metal “spoils” gained during conquest were often seen as incredibly valuable since they could be recycled. Ancient Romans also recycled scrap metals and jewelry into weapons during wartime, which was a popular practice used by many other civilizations as well. For instance, it was discovered in 2009 that even the Scandinavian Vikings had designated “smelting centers” for repurposing weaponry, used prior to large battles.

Archeological finds also show that old cities were often built on top of one another, meaning that people used metals and other materials from the ruins of cities that stood before to create new buildings. People would scavenge for scrap metal through the rubble of natural disasters for salvageable parts that could be smelted or reused.

Reduce, Reuse, Revolution?

The American Revolution was a time of great ingenuity and promise for the colonists of the New World. Though there was much hope for the birth of America, there was also great poverty as Britain began to cut off trading ties with its rebellious colony. Scrap metal recycling, as well as the use of scrapyards became ubiquitous. There were many famous recyclers during this period, including Paul Revere, who owned his very own scrap yard. It is rumored that Revere’s horse, on his famous ride warning of the British arrival, wore horseshoes made of recycled metal. In later years, he founded the nation’s first copper mill.

Years later, just before the industrial revolution, metal was not yet mass-produced at the speed that was necessary to keep up with the rapid advance of technology. To combat this,the recycling of metals was vital to keep the industrialization process as sustainable as possible. This became a particularly popular practice in Europe, mostly with aluminum scrap. Factory scrap metals were often repurposed into new machinery and new products that could be sold.

Scrap for Victory!

World War II is considered to be the catalyst to one of the most famous recycling efforts in history. The war effort cast most of the world powers into intense poverty, and recycling all materials, especially metals, became essential. Huge propaganda movements encouraged people to contribute, aluminum, steel, and tin from old pots and pans, farm equipment, statues and guns. Every state had a monthly quota for how much scrap metal was to be collected and donated, and a sense of patriotism was cultivated around recycling. At the beginning of the war, it was estimated that 1.5 million tons of scrap metal were simply lying around on farms and in homes.

Following previous wartime patterns, thousands of pounds of scrap metal were used to create new weaponry, airplanes, and battleships. This process sustained the Allied Powers through the war and strengthened both the economy as well as a sense of nationalism 

Recycling is Groovy, Man…

Following the world wars, capitalism was booming, and consumerism was gradually leading humanity towards a significantly more “disposable” way of life. Products were now made for one-time use, such as tin soda cans, and the environment was beginning to suffer. At this point, conservationism was not at the forefront of people’s minds due to the recent economic boom.

The 1960s marked the rebirth of the recycling movement, but now from an environmental standpoint. Activists were starting to fight for the rights of the planet. Recycling was now not only beneficial for the economy but was also essential for the livelihood of the planet. 

How We See It at Roane Metals

As we’ve taken our journey through the history of metal recycling, it’s clear that even the most ancient of civilizations had the right idea. At the Roane Metals Group, we believe that scrap metal recycling has been a long-standing practice throughout history for a reason. Not only does metal recycling save the environment, but it also revitalizes the economy to keep it stable and sustainable. By giving your scrap metal, you play a part in creating new jobs and contribute to a$280 billion dollar industry, all while putting money in your pocket! So, the next time you’re faced with defective machinery or a seemingly endless pile of rubble, do what the Ancient Romans would do, and visit the Roane Metals Group at either of our two locations in Rockwood or Crossville.