Recycling in The Olden Days
In modern times, recycling is very much about conservation of the environment, but back in the 40s/50s it was more to do with economy. Goods and materials that were discarded were often seconded to further use, sometimes for an entirely different purpose from their original one.
Some of this was done by the adult population. Their main targets were machine items, metals and furniture. Machines could be re-deployed for the same task as previously, or for a rebuild into something unique that the user had dreamed up: a small motor could become a paint-stirrer for example; metal was sold to scrap-metal dealers or to the rag-and-bone man; and furniture was either re-installed into another home, sometimes after renovation, or sold to dealers.
Kids tended to be more creative. They recovered bottles, tins, old tyres, timber, and machine parts like gears, rods and plates, or, if really fortunate, ball-bearings that would be the envy of all their marble-playing friends! Some of these could be traded to the rag-and-bone man for maybe a goldfish in a jar or a shiny bauble. The inner-tubes of bicycle tyres were especially valuable in my area, as not many kids had bikes. The tubes would be cut into strips that were excellent material for catapults.
When we moved to Australia in the fifties we were fortunate(?) enough to live close to the local rubbish tip, where local stores dumped their unneeded items. Two of my favourite contributers were a local bike shop, and a radio repair shop. The bike shop dumped bike parts regularly, and several bikes in our area were constructed from these parts. My Dad was a great believer in re-cycling (no pun intended) these parts and spent many hours building, adjusting and painting bikes for his family. My elder brother, Bram, was a radio afficionado and recovered electronic parts that were used to build radios and other things.
The rubbish tip was also popular, particularly with the boys, because it was infested with rats and so provided a very exciting hunting ground to use our catapults. Not very humane, though.
Some other less-obvious recycled items were bottle-tops (different coloured tops had different values for swapping); match boxes and cigarette packets that we carefully collapsed into a flat object that resembled a swap-card. They were then traded in the same way as swap cards are today. American brands were highly prized. Several cigarette companys made cigarette cards which were separate from the packet and were very collectible. However, packets were easier to come by and these were more popular with kids in my area.