The title is a bit misleading, because I doubt that anybody 50 years ago actually made a living recycling anything. That's probably because then, there just wasn't much that was thrown away as is true of our wasteful society today.
When we drank milk or soda at school, those bottles were immediately put back into the crates in which they came, and on the seller's next delivery trip, he picked up the empty bottles, and they all had to be accounted for. We never bought milk for home (which also came in glass jugs), but even those that were delivered to houses were recycled. So, for a long time, environmentally conscious citizens have recycled.
We never saw anyone picking up used soda or milk bottles for recycling, and I'm not sure anyone did. However, there were some items that a resourceful and seeking person might find that could be re-sold – and scrap metal, tin and iron were some. People have always wrecked their cars or destroyed or worn out household or farm equipment made with iron or metal.
So, this is where my dad comes in. My dad was conscientious and resourceful. He was always looking for items that he could salvage and sell.
Uptown, there was this ... I'm not sure what they called it, but the place bought scrap iron and metal, and they may have purchased tin and copper too. I remember Dad was always on the look-out for anything that anyone had thrown away. He'd stop along the road and pick up pieces of iron, metal, tin, aluminum, or whatever that stuff was that someone had thrown away.
There was also a "junk" yard just outside the city that he frequented to look for cast-offs. He took these items to this "whatever-they-called it" shop and sold them. I'm sure he only received small amounts of money ... pennies to pocket change to be exact, but at least the money he made was his version of recycling. He didn't do that all the time, but it was frequent enough that I still remember where the place is and what it looks like. I thought of what he did as a hobby, but it was actually his "side hustle."
I can still see him now – driving into this wrecking yard, unloading whatever goods he had and exchanging them for pitiful amounts of money. He may have gotten a few dollars, but more than likely, the pay was a combination of quarters, nickels and dimes. But as the old saying goes, "pennies make dollars," and I guess that's the way my father looked at it too.