Wasted opportunities thing of past

Sustainability Victoria

We may see the value in waste today, but we didn’t always understand the endless opportunities in recycling.

Recycling is not a modern concept.

It’s believed that in 3000 BC, people in western Asia were melting metal to create new objects and that in 1031, Japan made recycled paper after the government decreed that all wastepaper be collected and re-pulped.

When it comes to waste and recycling, humans have always demonstrated they can be creative. The solutions are there, they just need the innovation and investment to make them a reality.

The history of waste and recycling in Victoria tells a story of the times: what we’re willing to throw away and how we do it, or what we value and treasure to be reused again and again, reflects the needs of the day.

Recycling and hygiene are hardly synonymous, but public health issues are often the driving force behind waste policy and collection services.

In the 19th century, Melbourne was considered the world’s dirtiest city. ‘Smellbourne’, unable to keep pace with sudden population growth after the gold rush, had no regulations for waste disposal from private premises by the 1860s. The city’s excrement, or ‘night soil’, was collected in cesspits at the back of people’s properties, often overflowing into public laneways or dumped in the Yarra River or public parks.

By the 1870s, disease and infection were rampant. Typhoid and diphtheria were common. Public outcry for sanitary and waste reform gained momentum, and in May 1892 construction began on Melbourne’s first underground sewerage system. These early waste collection services were driven by the need to make cities healthy and safe.

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