Developing Garbage Cans: The World’s Unsung Hero

19 September 2016

Garbage cans have been developing to keep pace with the ever increasing production of waste since their inception in 1875. Let’s take a look at how garbage cans have kept up.

In the United States alone each person is responsible for over 1,600 pounds of waste a year. It is remarkable that today’s trash collection system is able to handle this gargantuan load. But how did the system get to this point? The answer lies in the history of disposal bins and the developments that came with them.

garbage disposal ©

The problem of waste disposal came with the first civilizations. As population density rose so did the visibility of waste product, not a pretty sight. In a sense the Romans had first organized disposal system dating back to 200 A.D. composed of men walking the streets and tossing trash into a wagon. Yet at this point in history garbage was not a true thread due to the relatively small civilization structures; therefore, there was little development for a long time in the field of garbage disposal.

It was not until the plagues of 14th and 16th century Europe roamed the world that garbage had become a true disaster. The massive shift to highly populated cities for jobs and efficiency had caused a tangle of problems. The deadliest of which was widespread disease such as dysentery, cholera, and the infamous bubonic plague. To combat this the English employed ‘rakers’ who emptied privies and chamber pots to keep the cities sanitary.

Finally the industrial revolution hit and cities became the hotspots they are today, only without sanitation laws. This lack of legal definition launched an ‘age of sanitation’ and a legal battle ensued of the government’s right to collect and regulate waste while many cities turned to burying or burning trash. Eventually in 1875 the first personal garbage bin came in Britain. The legal stars aligned and governments were permitted the high honor of collecting trash. The bins were small enough to be mobile and were to be collected on a weekly basis. A decade later America started using the same system, creating the first garbage incinerator to deal with the incoming waste. And in 1895 New York City began employing a full-fledged task force of 2,000 ‘white wings’ that patrolled the streets, carting garbage off to incinerators.

This turn of events takes us to the modern day system where everything began working like a well oiled machine. Wheels and handles were optimized to ensure the easy rolling of garbage bins. A new collection tool was added to today’s iconic garbage man, the garbage truck. The trucks soon gained built-in compactors, making every outing more efficient and allowing trucks to service larger areas. More recently garbage trucks are gaining automatic collection systems which pick up personal garbage bins without the aid of a garbage man, making their job less taxing. The result of all of this development is a massive garbage collection system that can handle the equally gigantic load of garbage the world produces. Just imagine what other new technology will come in the next century.

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