The History Of Rubbish Disposal in The UK
Whilst the first European record of household waste collection was in Knossos, Crete; as long ago as 3,000 BC; it was not until 1297 when a law was introduced in Britain. The law required householders to stop rubbish building-up in front of their property. This law was rarely enforced and since there was no organized provision for collection it was largely ignored.
The Black Death
Britain’s first rubbish collection service was a result of the Black Death in 1348, which killed nearly 50% of the population. The disease was spread because of the abundance of Black Rats and fleas that feasted on the rubbish strewn in the streets. A lesson was learned and by 1354 “Muckrakers” or “Rakers” were employed to rake the rubbish into heaps, which were then carted away to locations just outside the city.
Towards the end of the medieval period residents who dumped waste in the streets were given large fines as a deterrent, but once again there was no comprehensive solution for waste disposal so it had little impact. Not only was household waste a problem but also the disposal of solid human waste. There is a record of William Shakespeare’s father being fined because he built a sewerage pit outside his neighbor’s house.
The Great Fire of London
In 1666 the great fire of London destroyed much of the center of London, including the backlog of trash that had accumulated in the streets, and which helped spread the flames. The destruction of the waste also resulted in a high percentage of the Black Rats and fleas that lived off the waste. Although there were fewer houses in the areas rebuilt after the fire, and streets were much wider, rubbish remained an issue.
Municipal Waste Collection
Halfway through the 18th century, there was a movement towards making local authorities responsible for keeping London clean. It was proposed that waste be carried on barges along the Thames to “a proper distance in the country”. The reality, however, was that it took almost a century before comprehensive legislation was passed. In 1846 the Metropolitan Board of Works was created to oversee the citywide removal of waste. This same act was also responsible for the introduction of dustbins in the UK. In 1875 local authorities became responsible for the removal and disposal of waste, as is still the case today.
Other cities were also tackling their waste problems and in 1874 a “destructor” (incineration plant) was opened in Nottingham. In the following fifty years many other cities adopted this approach.
Waste Collection Vehicles
The original vehicles were horse-drawn open-topped carts that did nothing to contain the smell as they traveled the streets. Later they enclosed the carts and in 1920 the first mechanized vehicles with dumping lever mechanisms appeared. Gradually, as new technologies were developed these vehicles evolved into the type of truck we see today.
Change of attitude
In 1954 the National Federation of Women’s Institutes came up with a slogan, a campaign, “Keep Britain Tidy” which played an important role in convincing the public to voluntarily accept change. this led to a change in public attitude by making the correct disposal of rubbish into an aspirational act.