In the Middle Ages, around about 1200 to 1348 AD, there was no garbage collection system, no sanitation system. Throughout Europe, spoiled food, human waste and garbage was simply dumped into the streets. The lack of sanitation aided the breeding of rodents capable of carrying and transmitting diseases that were fatal to humans.

While the rat population in Europe was growing, a pathogen known as Yersinia Pestis bacterium was working its way towards Europe from China and central Asia. The so-called Silk Road was a trade route that had been established for the trade of European goods for fine Asian silk products. The pathogen was likely traveling via Oriental rat fleas. These fleas found a plentiful host in the black rat, a frequent stow away on merchant ships.

After exploding in Crimea in 1346, the pathogen struck Europe proper in 1348. For two long years the rat-borne pathogen took lives. Estimated deaths range from 75 million to 200 million. Called the Black Death and The Great Plague, the epidemic decimated 30-60 percent of the European population. Over 150 years passed before Europe was able to recover its numbers.

While few people blame the untenable sanitation conditions for the plague itself, it is clear that the situation gave rise to the black rat population and that exacerbated the transmission rate and the spread of the pathogen. Though noted scholars have argued against it, one can see the connection between Yersinia Pestis, the growth of the black rat population caused by easy access to food in the streets, and the lack of sanitation that likely reduced the population’s corporate immune system.

In 1875, Rubbish Collection Begins

In any case, it was not until 1875, in England, rubbish collection became a standard service offered to home owners. The practice of systematic rubbish collection came to the USA in the early 1900’s.

Waste receptacles started out as metal cans with lids. In the USA they were called garbage cans and in the UK they were better known as rubbish bins. Typically, these bins were placed at the rear of the home to avoid being seen from the street. Sanitation workers routinely carried the bins to the street, dumped them into the collection truck, and then carried the empty bin back to the rear of the home.

Take it to the Curb!

After the 1960’s in the USA, curb appeal was sublimated to the whims of sanitation labour unions who demanded that home owners transport their garbage cans to the street instead of the sanitation worker.

When the practice of home owners transporting the rubbish bins out to the street began, it was clear that the addition of wheels would make the process much easier. Thus was born the mobile garbage can or wheelie bin. The concept was that the large wheelie bin would be filled with rubbish and then rolled out to the street on the day designated each week for rubbish collection. Residents were then supposed to roll the wheelie bin back to the rear of the home, out of sight.

Anti-Litter Campaigns Fuel New Bin Types

During the 1960’s anti-litter campaigns were going strong in the USA and the UK. Curb side receptacles sprang up in convenient, strategic places throughout the cities to make it easier for people to dispose of food containers, wrappers, cigarette packaging and other rubbish rather than tossing it into the street or a nearby yard.

Industrial sized metal rubbish containers are known in the USA as dumpsters and in the UK as skips. The small wire mesh or solid metal container used for collecting waste paper in office settings is generally referred to as a wastepaper basket in the UK and a wastebasket in the USA.

Custom Bins

Over the past few decades, rubbish bin manufacturers have become increasingly creative. The movement to mask waste bins with sleeker designs that blend into the layout of a given property gave birth to an entire industry that creates custom bins for corporate developments, universities, art centres and other high end real estate. The concept here is to mix an equal amount of convenience and aesthetic appeal together so that the rubbish bins look anything but rubbishy, yet are available when people need to get rid of garbage and rubbish.

This trend led to an even more innovative rubbish container system known as the Molok deep collection system. Developed in the 1980’s, the Molok system uses a semi-underground bin that appears small topside. The slim appearance above ground is aesthetically appealing. Underground, the storage space is much bigger and the container design allows the contents to compress itself via weight and gravity. Compressing makes it possible to hold even more rubbish. On the scheduled pick up day, the internal storage bag is lifted from the ground via small crane and placed in the removal truck.

There are numerous benefits to this type of system. Clearly the aesthetics are preserved. Pick up doesn’t need to happen as frequently. The underground storage area is cooler and less prone to develop bacteria, doors or pests. The cost of pick up and maintenance is much lower for the municipality.

The Modern Bin

The bin industry continues to thrive as new opportunities develop every day. The movement towards lower cost, convenient, aesthetic rubbish collection bins is not likely to go away anytime soon. Millions of research and development dollars are poured into the creation of systems that reduce pathogens, mould, fungus, bacteria, door and pests. Cities continue to focus on the beauty of the neighbourhood and this drives the development of better systems that can meet all of the aforementioned needs in a cost-effective manner that protects the health of the community.

While it has taken a few centuries to get to this point, humanity has come a long way since the times when waste and rubbish was simply tossed out the window and into the streets below. The Dark Ages and Black Death have given way to a more enlightened era in which people are conscious of their environment and the consequences of disrespecting it and their fellow citizens. While some areas and municipalities still have a way to go, the positive impetus and momentum will certainly continue to improve the sanitation conditions and the quality of life for civilized beings planet-wide.

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