Pans into Planes

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Making fuel from old paper at home, or equipping cars with gas generators fueled by wood helped civilians to survive the hardships of war. However, that was not recycling as we know it today; instead, it was collecting old products in order to reprocess them and retrieve the raw material.

That form of recycling also played an important role during wartime. Just as copper was collected to manufacture shells during the First World War, the focus in the 1940s shifted to aluminum. Aluminum was essential in manufacturing aircraft, and because the supplies of bauxite (aluminum ore) in allied countries were limited, it was necessary to look for alternative resources.

In July 1940, Lord Beaverbrook, the minister of aircraft production, opened a huge reception depot on the outskirts of London as a collecting center for aluminum articles. In response to the "Pans into Planes" slogan, British women flooded the collecting centers all over the country with their arms full of aluminum pots and pans.

A similarly positive, albeit unexpected response came from another group of British citizens. Moving photos of piled artificial limbs that had been donated by disabled persons – especially veterans of the First World War – encouraged all Britons to make a sacrifice for the war effort.

How to cite this page


Slawomir Lotysz, 'Pans into Planes', Inventing Europe,


  1. Hardach, Karl. The Political Economy of Germany in the Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
  2. “Aluminium For Aircraft. An Appeal To Women.” The Times, July 10, 1940: 4.

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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.

What's like this?

Recycling waste materials in wartime

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