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The history of recycling starts with cavemen

| October 22, 2013

Recycling may seem like a contemporary trend, but according to a recent conference covered in Yahoo! News, the history of recycling begins much earlier than previously thought. In fact, humans have been recycling since the days of the caveman.

history of recycling

Cavemen reused cutlery made from flint in the first instances of recycling. From Eden, Janine and Jim.

Now, to be fair, cavemen weren’t exactly filling up big green bins with plastic bottles and wheeling the bins out to the curb for weekly pick-up, but the general philosophy appears to have been in place hundreds of thousands of years ago.

A recent four-day conference at Tel Aviv University in Israel witnessed the convergence of nearly 50 archaeologists and other scholars. The conference, titled “The Origins of Recycling” revealed some fascinating tidbits.

“There is mounting evidence that hundreds of thousands of years ago our prehistoric ancestors learned to recycle the objects they used in their daily lives,” reports the article.

When you think about it, this kind of resourcefulness makes sense for a civilization focused on survival of the fittest. It’s sort of an extreme version of the “waste not, want not” philosophy that our grandparents drilled into us.

As Tel Aviv archaeologist Ari Gopher reasons, “Why do we recycle plastic? To conserve energy and raw materials. In the same way, if you recycled flint you didn’t have to go all the way to the quarry to get more, so you conserved your energy and saved on the material.”

Evidence presented at the conference suggests that early hominids “would collect discarded or broken tools made of flint and bone to create new utensils.”

There is some suggestion that hominids re-worked flint as early as 1.3 million years ago. However, it wasn’t until several hundred thousand years later that the practice seemed more deliberate as a method of recycling.

The article reports that at Qesem cave, an archaeological site near Tel Aviv dating back to between 200,000 and 420,000 years ago, researchers found flint chips that had been reshaped into small blades to cut meat — in effect, a primitive form of cutlery.

Of the tools found at the site, one in ten had been recycled in some way. That’s a 10% recycling rate, which (unfortunately) rivals that of some modern communities!

It’s certainly humbling to think that we may not have evolved drastically in our recycling rates over the last 400,000 years. Perhaps the lack of acute perceived necessity hinders us. If that’s the case, we need to remind ourselves that the environment — and our futures — depend on us thinking of recycling as a basic necessity for survival, just as the cavemen did.

Be part of the solution. Do your part to recycle in your own home, encourage the practice at work, and help spread awareness throughout your community. After all, recycling is ingrained in your genes!

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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