Recycling is simply turning something that would be considered waste or no longer unusable for its intended purpose, into something useful again.
If you think about it that way, recycling has been around since prehistoric times. A stone that was removed from a structure and attached to a stick and used to strike something would be an example of recycling. Sharpened bones used as sewing needles would be another.
Humans aren't even the only creatures that recycle. Aside from the obvious recycling by using pieces of human garbage to make nests, some birds have been known to remove twigs from their nests and use them to retrieve bugs from holes in trees, also technically recycling the twig.
Most recycling in the world is done out of necessity. There are many homes in many countries where you will see discarded plastic bags used as roofing materials, broken glass bottles used as security fences, etc. Most of this type of recycling was going on long before modern US recycling programs were started.
If you are only interested in modern-day recycling programs, Woodbury NJ, just outside of Philadelphia PA is credited as developing the first curb-side recycling program in the US. See the link for more info.
I hope this answers your question.