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Staff Picks

Staff Picks

Recycling Tin Cans During WWII

4y ago


This clip is from a 1940s newsreel. During World War II, the folks in the United States undertook a series of conservation measures which included rationing, production of food in home "Victory" gardens for one's own use, and collections of scrap materials to be remanufactured into war materiel. Many different kinds of items were collected and recycled, including iron, steel, rubber, copper, brass, aluminum, zinc, lead, paper, tin cans, nylon, silk, cooking fats, and rags. However, much of the material which was collected either went unused or made no real contribution to the war. While many products were produced from recycled rubber, the mixed types of rubber obtained from scrap drives were slow to process and made inferior products. Very little of the rubber collected was actually recycled. Recycled paper, which was mainly newspapers, was not useful for anything except packing. The many aluminum pots and pans which were recycled were generally just made back into more pots and pans, since only pure aluminum could be used for airplane parts. The scrap drives were not just a fraud, however, because the drives helped build morale at home and helped to illustrate and encourage conservation. Some of the scrap collected was, moreover, very useful to the war effort. Kitchen fats and cooking grease, perhaps one of the sillier-seeming things to collect, were very useful. They were processed into glycerin, which was in demand both as a component of medicines and to be converted into nitroglycerin for the manufacture of explosives. Scrap iron and steel were also highly useful. Though it was cheaper to make new iron and steel from America's ample supply of iron ore, doing so takes far more time and production capacity than does recycling scrap. The use of recycled scrap in addition to production from ore resulted in a far higher amount of iron and steel being available to the insatiable war industries.