Salvage for Victory: Lessons on Recycling and Waste Reduction from Wartime America

15 May 2019

History | War and Conflict

This blog includes temporary access to two documents from our new collection America in World War Two: Oral Histories and Personal Accounts. Click the images to access them free for 30 days.

From the phasing-out of single-use plastic bags in our supermarkets, to the timely arrival of Marlborough’s new packaging-free shop, and our office’s very own box of reusable containers (furnished with a photo of Sir David Attenborough), we all seem to have plastic on our minds. The recent growth of public interest in waste reduction is unmistakeable, and as someone who has long been concerned about the impact of our throwaway culture on the environment, it’s encouraging to see. However, while one might be forgiven for thinking this was a recent phenomenon, the concepts of waste management and recycling are anything but new.

The document holdings of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, now published in our newest resource, America in World War II: Oral Histories and Personal Accounts, reveal insights into every aspect of the war: not just the battles, but also the impact it had on civilian lives. In the United States as elsewhere, the war placed a huge demand on resources, and rationing was introduced in order to preserve materials for use for the war effort. Initially, this only included resources such as rubber and gasoline, but this was soon extended to include food products such as sugar, coffee, dairy produce and fruit.

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. Click the image to see the document for free until 14th June 2019.

Many of the collections donated by veterans and their families contain ration books, coupons and stamps, but there are also recipe books advising consumers on how to make the most of limited rations. One example is the ABC of Wartime Canning, full of recipes and instructions on how to preserve perishable food at home. Aimed at housewives, the foreword draws heavily on war-themed rhetoric to inspire its audience, with references to “active campaigns of home canning” and emphasising the important role American women could play in the war effort from their own kitchens.

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Another part of rationing, the Salvage for Victory campaign was a government scheme launched in 1942 to encourage American consumers to save materials such as waste paper, scrap metal, rags and rubber so that they could be reused in the war effort, with stores acting as collection points for donated goods. Flyers from the campaign helpfully show the kinds of materials that could be accepted, how to prepare them for use, and what they could eventually be used for.

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


Of course, the repurposing of household waste to be used in the construction of bombs, tanks and planes could hardly be further away from the goals which drive contemporary interests in recycling. But the essential message – use as little as you can while reusing as much as you can – remains the same.


America in World War Two: Oral Histories and Personal Accounts is now available. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Join the webinar Reflections on the 75th anniversary of D-Day - The personal experiences of World War Two on Thursday 16th May to discover more about the resource.

About the Author

Jade Bailey

Jade Bailey

I joined Adam Matthew's Editorial team in January 2017 and have since had the opportunity to work on projects including Trade Catalogues and the American Home, Colonial America and Service Newspapers of World War II. My academic background is in medieval manuscripts, French literature and the history of language.