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The recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment in India and China generates a significant amount of pollution. Informal recycling in an underground economy of these countries has generated an environmental and health disaster. High levels of lead (Pb), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated dioxins and furans, as well as polybrominated dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs and PBDD/Fs) concentrated in the air, bottom ash, dust, soil, water and sediments in areas surrounding recycling sites. Critics also argue that while recycling may create jobs, they are often jobs with low wages and terrible working conditions. These jobs are sometimes considered to be make-work jobs that don't produce as much as the cost of wages to pay for those jobs. In areas without many environmental regulations and/or worker protections, jobs involved in recycling such as ship breaking can result in deplorable conditions for both workers and the surrounding communities.

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.

The construction industry may recycle concrete and old road surface pavement, selling their waste materials for profit.

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.
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.

In a 2007 article, Michael Munger, chairman of political science at Duke University, wrote that "if recycling is more expensive than using new materials, it can't possibly be efficient.... There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource... or just garbage... If someone will pay you for the item, it's a resource.... But if you have to pay someone to take the item away,... then the item is garbage."

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