Recycling in War and Peace: Continuities and Discontinuities of Recycling Practices from the 1930s until the 1960s in Britain and West Germany

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 9:10 AM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Roman Köster, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

In Britain and West Germany, salvage collections were an established and professional field of business in the 1930s. There were numerous traders which collected scrap, rags, waste paper etc. These traders were looking for easily processable materials which could be sold for a reasonable price. During and even before WW II, however, the state in both countries started to intervene massively in the salvage trade: In Germany already this began with the promulgation of the Four-Year-Plan in 1936, in Britain with the start of the hostilities. During the war, salvage collection was perceived as an important means to supply the war economy with desperately needed raw materials. 

After 1945, however, there was a remarkable shift in the recycling practices of both countries. While in West Germany the collection of waste materials from households was already on the retreat in the 1950s, it came almost to a complete halt during the following decade. In Britain, on the other hand, salvage collections took place until the late 1960s. Interestingly, these collections were stopped at that point of time when municipalities in West Germany started again with it, now under the flag of „environmental protection“.

This paper examines the question of how these different histories can be explained as a result of the transformation of the „traditional“ salvage business through the war economy. The main argument is that the massive intervention of the Nazi government destroyed the grown structures of the salvage business, while in Britain it was easier for the branch to reorganize itself after 1945.