No Trash Talk here

Garbage bin for recycle
Garbage bins for recycling

Hi guys, this is not what you might be expecting to read on a typical weekend but I absolutely found it worthwhile to know the importance of the garbage bin and the convenience that it brings to our daily lives.

    • The history of Garbage management.

    • How did the garbage bins help eradicate the black plague and yellow fever?

    • How was garbage disposed of in the early times, middle ages and modern era?

    • This week in Invisible History: The first friction to spark. Domain: Essential Objects.

    • Discuss the article here.

    Imagine the world without dustbins or trash cans. We daily pop the lid of the garbage bin to collect all the trash in our houses. The process has become so monotonous that we take these containers for granted.

    That is why I'm sure the first impression of this sentence is not very dire. But trust me, the world will tear itself apart if there is no proper way to dispose of the garbage. 

    People faced many epidemics and pandemics because of the lack of a proper garbage disposal system. For many centuries, people had to live without garbage bins. To get a more profound sense of the importance of garbage bins or trash cans, let's get into the details of the history of it.

    The compromise of ancient times

    Imagine you were in 200 AD. Trading was at the verge of beginning. Roman civilization was at its peak. And you can assume that the garbage that time would also be different than the currently disposed rubbish. Excavations have revealed the old dumps contained ash, pottery and broken tools. The edible waste included animal feeds and what remained on the ground that didn't decompose. All the trash that time was dumped.

    Waste during the Black Plague
    Waste during the Black Plague

    Large dumpsites were developed and used to deal with excessive garbage that couldn't be reused or given to animals. Such dumps were seen in Mediterranean areas like the island of Crete. It is speculated that the people themselves dug up soil to throw their trash in it. Burning the garbage was also a popular option. Sometimes, people opted for the most comfortable, though the most unsanitary: throwing it out of their gates and windows, where it piled on the street.

    This obviously created a problem, and the Romans were the first to act on it. The solution was to have two people roam around areas to collect the garbage to dump it someplace far.

    Variations in middle ages

    Emptying the ash barrels on a tenement block

    The middle ages had it all. The most popular option to throw the garbage was still throwing it outside the house. While the internal hygiene was good and maintained, the smell outside was horrendous. It harboured rats and pests, which then contaminated the water. This paved the way for diseases - with black plague being one of them.

    Britain saw this and passed a law to clean front yards and streets in 1350. Unfortunately, people started burning their trash to be aligned with the law without any effort. To solve this issue, in 1354, King Edward III ordered rakers to rake all refuse from streets and alleys. This introduction was the first version of today's garbagemen. But this solution came with another problem. The rakers usually took the trash and threw it in the river Thames. It took almost 40 years (1388) for the Parliament to ban the dumping of waste in the rivers and oceans. After the next 20 years (1407), Britain passed a law that dictated the storage of garbage indoors until rakers took it.

    Early America and the Industrial Revolution

    With the introduction of mass production and the population boom, new garbage came through in the form of mechanical waste and medical waste. But there were even new ways to manage waste.

    In 1757, despite the new laws, waste continued to be dumped in alleys and front of houses. In America, Ben Franklin started the first road cleaning service and encouraged the public to dig pits into disposing of their waste. In 1854, a report in England linked filth with diseases. This led to the Age of Sanitation. It took some time to be replicated in America.

    In 1864, the health officials in Memphis, Tennessee tried to connect the dots. They saw a connection between the spread of yellow fever in Memphis and the garbage being dumped around the city. Residents were instructed to take their rubbish to specific locations on the edge of town to minimise the threat of the disease. Laws also started being passed to stop trash dumping in the streets. 

    Garbage during Industrial Revolution
    Garbage during Industrial Revolution
    Courtesy: 19th Century Bottle Diggers

    With the industrial revolution, an industrial method was introduced in England to manage the waste. In 1874, an idea to derive energy from waste was very popular. The first "destructor" was designed and built-in Nottingham. Destructors were incineration factories that burned garbage mixed with fuel, producing steam to generate electricity. Over the next 30 years, 250 destructors were built, but they eventually fell out of favour. This was because emissions in the forms of ashes, dust, and charred paper filled the air in regions. With the turn of the century, by 1908, dumping waste was back, but the location was preset— usually a wasteland. Piggeries were also popular to dispose of edible waste. But still, no trash cans!

    The trash container!

    Garbage collection had become a common practice by 1875. The first trash container was used during this time, but the purpose was to contain ash. The ash is the burned trash. Maybe that's where the word dustbin comes from. The bins were made of metal, wood, or even buckets people used. America caught up by 1885. America adopted the idea of dustbins with the garbage incinerator. 

    Lillian Moller Gilbreth
    Lillian Moller Gilbreth: the inventor of foot pedal trash bin.

    In the 1920s, an industrial engineer and efficiency expert, as well as a mother of twelve, Lillian Moller Gilbreth took a step further and introduced A pedal bin. The same design is being used as of now. This invention was of immense ease for people to dispose of the waste generated in the kitchen without touching the bin with hands.

    Garbage collection

    In 1897, the first self-propelled garbage trucks were ordered by Chiswick District Council from the Thornycroft Steam Wagon and Carriage Company. This replaced the traditional wagon and cart garbage hauliers. They were labelled as a steam engine tip-car, a new design of body specific for "the collection of dust and house refuse." 

    Steam dust cart
    Steam Dust Cart

    After much trial and error, in 1914, incinerators became more popular, and about 300 were in operation throughout the states and Canada. Horse-driven carts were still used to collect trash and take it to incinerators.

    After some years, the carts were replaced by motor cars, simplifying the work of garbage collectors. All of this became possible because of garbage bins.

    Now it's your turn

    Next time whenever you step on the pedal to open the garbage bin be grateful for the container and the garbagemen. It saves us from epidemics and pandemics. The year 2020 being one of the examples. 

    This week in Invisible history.

    Last week's clue was "The 3-stroke gas engine". Again Radhika Oguri and Sidharth Singh gave the right answer.

    On October 19 1860, the Società Anonima del Nuova motore Barsante e Matteucci (Anonymous Society of the New Barsanti and Matteucci Engine) was formed in Florence, Italy, to manufacture internal combustion engines. On June 5 1853, Father Eugenio Barsante and engineer Felice Matteucci were the first to record having designed a three-stroke gas engine that was to be commercially developed. They deposited a sealed envelope at the secretariat of the Georgofili Academy of Florence outlining their work to that date. They also held British patents. 

    The first engine in actual operation was installed in 1856 at the Maria Antonia Railway Station in Florence. A piston was moved by atmospheric pressure after a vacuum was produced by the explosion of flammable gas inside it using an electric spark from a Rumkoff coil.

    The clue to next week's invention is "The first friction to spark." The domain is essential objects.

    Learned something new? Do write to us with your answers to get featured in the next article. Or tell us how we can make your weekend read absolutely amazing! 

    See you next weekend. Have a good one!


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    3. Twitter: @notnitinchopra

    Further reading

    1. History of the Garbage Man - Waste and Recycling Workers Week
    2. The History Of The Trash Can (and All Its Dirty Secrets) | by Trashcans Unlimited | Medium
    3. Early Times Square | Ephemeral New York


  1. Wow, wow, wow! I wish I was a great writer like you, because trust me I am falling short off words to express what I am feeling after reading this blog post. I really appreciate your skills and thoughtfulness.
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