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Sense of crisis needed to prompt people into recycling more, says new research

A sense of crisis is needed to ensure recycling efforts are successful, according to a report carried in the journal Historical Research published by academic press Blackwell. The report looks at waste disposal from the 1800s to the modern day and argues that during the first and second World Wars recycling efforts challenged the throw away society. A sense of thrift and patriotism buoyed waste minimisation and re-use and the report quotes The Scotsman describing in 1940 recycling as a humble, but useful, way of contributing to the national effort. This attitude helped to start to reverse, if only temporarily, the wastefulness of the consumer or affluent society. Yet, after the Second World War these efforts dramatically declined. The report concludes: Only the emergence of environmentalist criticisms of capitalism and the consumer society, and, subsequently, a new sense of crisis, would eventually revivify the impulse to recycle. However, it also lays blame for the decline of recycling after the war years, in the inability of professionals to overturn the cultural attitudes towards waste that they had done so much to develop before 1914. It states: The refuse revolution had established hygiene and the rapid removal of domestic waste as the first duty of both householders and cleansing officials. The dustbin and the incinerator had been among the means by which a nascent throwaway culture was created, reinforced by the fear of disease. Before 1914 waste management professionals had been almost solely concerned with public health issues but afterwards transformed themselves into experts at resource management. And new salvage technologies were developed to increase re-use and recycling. Before this time waste was burnt or land filled and an older practice of recycling involving the use of dust women was heavily criticised. These women hand picked or sieved through the waste while often standing waist deep in it. The report quotes a letter written to The Times in 1883, commenting on the practice: a more ingenious method for distributing infection could not be devised. Challenging the refuse revolution: war, waste and the rediscovery of recycling, 190050, was written by Tim Cooper from the Cornwall Campus of the University of Exeter. The research was undertaken at the AHRC Research Centre for Environmental History of St. Andrews between 2004 and 2006. Historical Research is published for the Institute of Historical Research.

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