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Industrialization spurred demand for affordable materials; aside from rags, ferrous scrap metals were coveted as they were cheaper to acquire than was virgin ore. Railroads both purchased and sold scrap metal in the 19th century, and the growing steel and automobile industries purchased scrap in the early 20th century. Many secondary goods were collected, processed, and sold by peddlers who combed dumps, city streets, and went door to door looking for discarded machinery, pots, pans, and other sources of metal. By World War I, thousands of such peddlers roamed the streets of American cities, taking advantage of market forces to recycle post-consumer materials back into industrial production.

Recycling is a process using materials (waste) into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling) by reducing the need for "conventional" waste disposal, ecological and lower greenhouse gas emissions as compared to plastic production. Recycling is a key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" waste hierarchy.

The amount of energy saved through recycling depends upon the material being recycled and the type of energy accounting that is used. Emergy (spelled with an m) analysis, for example, budgets for the amount of energy of one kind (exergy) that is required to make or transform things into another kind of product or service. Using emergy life-cycle analysis researchers have concluded that materials with large refining costs have the greatest potential for high recycle benefits. Moreover, the highest emergy efficiency accrues from systems geared toward material recycling, where materials are engineered to recycle back into their original form and purpose, followed by adaptive reuse systems where the materials are recycled into a different kind of product, and then by by-product reuse systems where parts of the products are used to make an entirely different product.

The wheelie bin is a waste container on wheels designed to make it easier for users to transport heavy loads of refuse to the curb or other pick-up point. George Dempster invented the Dempster-Dumpster system in the 1930s for automatically loading the contents of standardized mobile steel containers onto the dustcart. This led to the classic Dempster Dumpmaster waste collection vehicle of the 1950s, but wheelie bins did not become commonplace until the 1970s. The term dumpster is frequently used as a generic term for a large MGB or the non-mobile variety (known as a skip in the UK or Australia) in the United States. ecological
In the US residential wheelie bins are also generically called "Herbie Curbies." The modern bin is a German invention of the 1970s in a patent held by Schneider, and licensed to other companies outside Germany.

The glass, lumber, wood pulp, and paper manufacturers all deal directly in commonly recycled materials. However, old rubber tires may be collected and recycled by independent tire dealers for a profit.

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