The history of recycling in Australia has been a long one, beginning in households in the early days when items, through necessity, were re-used and recycled. The earliest organised recycling programs were the collection of waste paper, began in Melbourne in the 1920s. By the 1940s horse and cart collections of newspapers were commonplace from Australian households and the paper was re-used in packaging. In the 1920s Henry Ford recycled his Model T Fords and in 1915 BHP Steel began recycling industrial steel scrap. Metals were one of the earliest recycled materials with scrap metal dealers recovering metal and reselling it.
Paul Joseph Whelan had a demolition business in Melbourne during that era and began selling second hand building material from the sites. His company, Whelan The Wrecker, was the fore-runner to Kartaway, who are now a leading company recycling waste in Australia. With a branch in Adelaide, Kartaway hire skips and bins, develop waste management programs and run a public Recycling Depot at Virginia Road, Newtown, Campbelltown.
In 1977 South Australia introduced container deposit legislation to encourage the return of beverage containers for recycling. This continues to be a highly successful environmental program. Its aim is litter reduction and resource recovery and it is one of the first pieces of ‘product stewardship’ legislation. Under this legislation beverage suppliers are obliged to ensure they have a system in place to recover and recycle their empty containers. As a result of this legislation, South Australia leads the nation in the recovery, recycling and reduction of litter of beverage containers, with a return rate of 80.8%. Beverage containers now make up only 2.2% of litter. Nearly 595 million containers were returned to collection depots during 2012-2013, diverting 46,200 tonnes from landfill. This scheme has been so successful that it was awarded the State Heritage Icon.