New order, old policy

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Collecting thermoplast in GDR.

As was the case during the First World War, campaigns in post-war Europe to separate waste and collect recyclable materials were mainly aimed at housewives. The campaigns needed a new impulse to reach women who were already weary from wartime saving. Recycling and saving waste to "fight the enemy" or to support one's boyfriend or husband on the frontline had become obsolete.

Concern for the environment did not become a public issue until decades later. Women were addressed in these campaigns mostly as mothers, and recycling was presented as being like caring for children. A program announced in East Germany in 1956 took up this strategy in an innovative way. Every mother who brought three kilograms of old paper, rags, or bones to a collection point earned a ride for her child on a miniature, but fully functional car equipped with a combustion engine.

In East Germany, communist ideology also played a role in the recycling movement. Some propaganda posters were aimed at women who held family keepsakes, souvenirs, and knick-knacks. In the new society, such reminiscences of the past days were deemed unnecessary and were to be handed over to the new "Friedenswirtschaft" – the peace-time economy.

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Slawomir Lotysz, 'New order, old policy', Inventing Europe,



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Waste not, want not? Re-use campaigns from 'autarky' to recycling

Both the First and Second World Wars created shortages for the civilian populations in various European countries, when many imports were stopped and supplies were diverted to the military. For governments and military occupation authorities, this became a careful balancing act between civilians and the war effort. Apart from rationing what was left, propaganda campaigns were mainly addressed to housewives, encouraging them to make nations "autarkic" - self-sufficient. Such campaigns might well be considered the forebears of our current efforts to recycle.

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Recycling as business

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