Salvage and recycling – the Queensland way

You may have seen in the news recently that Sweden – one of those countries that recycles almost all of their household waste and even imports waste from other countries to recycle – has opened a shopping centre that only sells recycled, upcycled and repurposed goods!

This news story got me thinking about the methods used by Queenslanders to recycle and reuse goods over time. During the Second World War, many Queenslanders were looking for ways to ‘do their bit’ at home to support the war effort.

One method, embraced by the public and by the government, was the salvage and recycling of waste materials. Materials particularly sought after for salvage and recycling were:

  • useable paper like used office paper and newspapers
  • metals, including aluminium and brass
  • clean rags and fabric.

Here in the QSA collection, we have numerous letters and other records about the salvage of waste materials in Queensland during the Second World War. For instance, there is a letter dated 7 September 1942 to the Honourable W Forgan Smith MLA recommending the creation of a film on the importance of salvaging waste material:

Such a film should cover all phases of salvage from the recovery of the waste materials at the source of supply to the manufactured articles. These latter should be shown in actual use or being assembled for use even as munitions of war where this can be done without endangering security.

At the 1941 Royal National Exhibition – better known as the ‘Ekka’ – there was even a salvage display with a showcase of products made from salvaged waste paper!

QSA Digital Image ID 2953: Display at the Royal National Exhibition, Brisbane, August 1941

There are more letters on the salvage of materials and the coordination of the collection of salvage materials that have been digitised and made available in Image Queensland. Check the list of resources at the end of this post for more details.

We’d love to hear more about your recollections of the salvage and recycling initiatives during and after the Second World War – drop us a line on Facebook or comment on this blog to get in contact with us and share your story!

Resource list

Letter to H E R Jones from R S Mackay, Health and Home Affairs Department, regarding the salvage of metal in country districts, 28 March 1941 (QSA Digital Image ID 22383)

Letter to the Honourable W Forgan Smith MLA, from E M Hanlon Minister for Health and Home Affairs, recommending the creation of a film on the importance of salvaging waste material, 7 September 1942 (QSA Digital Image ID 22368)

Letter to the Under Secretary Department of Health and Home Affairs from T T Lyons, Under Secretary Department of Public Works, regarding reclaiming brass from broken electric light globes, 28 January 1943 (QSA Digital Image ID 22386)

Letter to Hon F A Cooper MLA, Premier of Queensland, from J Larcombe Minister for Public Instruction, regarding coordinating a collection of salvage materials, 9 July 1944 (QSA Digital Image ID 22367)

Display at the Royal National Exhibition, Brisbane in August 1941 showcasing products created from salvaged waste paper (QSA Digital Image ID 2953)

‘Flock’ and metal sections of salvage display at the Royal National Exhibition, Brisbane in August 1941 (QSA Digital Image ID 2946)

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2 Responses

  1. Heidi Caddies

    I loved coming across this article. I am in my 40s and have been conscious of waste for as long as I can remember. I put that down to growing up in a time of environmental awareness and the learned habits of my grandmother, who was in no way an activist but could not waste anything. She was not poor but lived through the wars and depression in rural Victoria. She gave value to everything from plastic bags (washed and reused) to water (used sparingly) to clothes. The list of ways in which she reused disposable things and conserved valuable things is long – but it is her mindset that I inherited and I wonder how typical she was of her time, and if she was, why haven’t we inherited this mindset more generally in our society given the challenges of our times. It is great to look back to this era to show how we should regard the materials we are using and throwing away.

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