Today, dealing with rubbish is second nature. From throwing an apple core into your food recycling to finding a public bin to dispose of your empty crisp packet, it’s likely you don’t think twice before disposing of waste. In fact, you’ve likely used the bin in your home, office or on the street many times today without even realising it. After all, putting our waste in the bin instead of littering is one of the first things we’re taught as children.

However, despite the fact that we use bins multiple times a day, it’s highly unlikely you know the history behind waste management. How did the Romans dispose of their waste, and when was the first bin invented? When did we start recycling, and what will waste clearance look like in the future? The history of rubbish clearance and waste management through the ages may not be something you’ve thought about much before, however, with such a fascinating background, we at Black Country Skip Hire think it’s an important story to tell.

Here, we at Black Country Skip Hire discuss the history of waste, from its early beginnings to the present day, and look at initiatives for dealing with rubbish in the future.

The early beginnings of waste disposal

The history of waste is an interesting one, largely because what we classify as waste today didn’t exist a few hundred years ago, let alone thousands of years ago. Plastic packaging, cardboard boxes and glass jars simply weren’t in existence when the Vikings began to settle over Europe or when the Romans constructed some of the world’s most famous civilisations. It’s important to bear that in mind when considering the history of waste clearance, as approaches to management have had to evolve alongside types of waste.

Despite this, humans have had to deal with waste for as long as civilisations have been alive. These early methods of waste management would have been extremely basic for a number of reasons. Firstly, the type of waste being disposed of would have been remnants of food and other natural materials, such as broken tools, which would have degraded over time. Secondly, at this time, knowledge of the environment and the negative impact of food waste and other rubbish would have been non-existent, with population sizes being so small that any impact would have been minimal.

With this in mind, it’s likely that if waste was disposed of, it would have been burnt, thrown into water sources, or simply left behind. However, that’s not to say that early methods of waste disposal weren’t sophisticated in some cases. In fact, to this day, the Romans are celebrated for their innovative approaches to sanitation. They even built sewages to carry human waste away from their living areas, which indicates a knowledge of the health impacts of being in close proximity to waste and rubbish.

Population growth and its impact on waste management

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that official and governed waste management systems came into play. There are many factors why, but two of the most important are as follows:

  • A rapid growth in populations and the birth of cities. This meant that waste began to be generated on a large scale day to day, leaving streets and waterways more and more polluted. As a result, dirty water caused the spread of diseases, pest problems spiralled out of control, and people began to notice links between poor sanitation and increased mortality rates.

  • A rapid growth in the production of non-biodegradable goods, such as plastic (invented and popularised in the early 20th century) and metal. As these materials don’t decompose, they began to cause a big problem on the streets of cities and villages across the UK.

The combination of these two factors meant that effective waste management solutions became necessary in the mid 19th century. Many social reformers began to campaign for better conditions, and in 1846 the government passed the Nuisance Removal and Disease Prevention Act. As a result, individuals were appointed to remove “nuisances” in a bid to stop the spread of cholera throughout England’s poorest communities.

Over time, this act evolved and in 1975 became the first Public Health Act. This was a revolutionary step in the management of waste as this made it a legal obligation for households to collect and get rid of their waste in containers that could be emptied and returned – just like the modern-day wheelie bin. This waste was carried away by horse and carriage and burnt in an incinerator. While rubbish is no longer burned today, these early household collections have paved the way for the system we use currently.

Modern-day rubbish clearance and recycling solutions

Today, every household has at least one bin. Rubbish is collected throughout the day before being transferred into a larger wheelie bin, kept outside of the property. The contents of this bin are then collected by the area’s local council weekly or fortnightly, and taken to be disposed of. This process is much more official than it was during the 20th century – in fact, you can now be fined for not separating your waste properly or putting it out for collection on the correct day. Fly tipping is now illegal, and there are different processes in place for all types of waste.

Unfortunately, landfill sites are still in operation, despite being one of the oldest methods of waste management across the world. This is where the majority of waste collected by the local authorities is disposed of, however, there are now much more stringent regulations in place to reduce the amount of rubbish heading to landfill. Under EU and UK law, local authorities are obligated to meet certain waste targets in order to minimise the environmental risks of excess waste.

One of the most revolutionary changes to waste management and rubbish clearance was the birth of recycling. While recycling in the broadest sense has always been a human trait (even ancient civilisations would reuse materials), official recycling campaigns like those we see today are relatively modern. During the Industrial Revolution, opportunists would scour the streets for waste that could be sold to manufacturers, and during World War II the first government recycling initiative came into fruition. The National Salvage Campaign was set up as a way of protecting Britain’s diminishing resources, and encouraged people to reuse metal, paper and textiles.

As pressure mounts on governments across the world to combat waste and increase their recycling efforts, the UK has seen a rise in official and independent recycling initiatives. Weekly waste collections extend to recycling bins, with households being provided with a separate bin for different materials. Many areas also now have food waste recycling collections, encouraging families to separate and recycle leftover tea bags, fruit and vegetables, meat scraps and more.

Public recycling bins are now commonplace and public values have changed significantly, with more and more people pledging to reuse and recycle to do their bit for the planet. In fact, in 2018, Collins Dictionary named “single-use” (referring to single-use goods, such as plastic food packaging) as their word of the year, showing just how much attitudes towards waste have changed over the years.

The future of rubbish clearance

It’s difficult to predict what the future of waste clearance might look like, however, one thing’s for sure – protecting the environment will be of the utmost importance. We simply cannot sustain this level of waste production, so it’s no surprise that governments, groups of people and individuals are doing their best to limit their waste usage. We’ve already seen a huge increase in reusable goods, from canvas bags to steel water bottles, bamboo coffee cups to metal straws, each of which have become commonplace.

Here are just a few of the changes we can expect to see in the future:

Biodegradable plastic

Single-use plastics have proven themselves to be the enemy, especially considering the devastating impact bottles, carrier bags and more are having on the ocean. For this reason, it’s no surprise that biodegradable plastics are increasing in popularity.

A waste tax

In the future, households may be subject to a waste tax of sorts, that charges people for the amount of waste they throw away. It’s hoped that paying for waste collection will encourage people to think twice about their waste output.

Automated waste separation

One of the biggest challenges local authorities face is having to separate materials and items which haven’t been recycled properly. Investing in a system which separates goods automatically before it reaches the processing plant could be a great way to limit the money and energy associated with this step.

Black Country Skip Hire: Skip hire services across the West Midlands

The history of rubbish clearance is a fascinating one, and is one we at Black Country Skip Hire are proud to be a part of. Based in Bilston, we’re proud to offer reliable and convenient skip hire services for both domestic and commercial clients across the West Midlands. We have a comprehensive range of skips for hire, in addition to roll on, roll off services and tip by the tonne solutions.

We recognise that we have a role to play in tackling waste responsibly and recycling as much as we can, which is why we are committed to helping our customers with paper recycling, plastic recycling, garden waste recycling, clothing recycling and much more. Whatever your waste removal requirements, we at Black Country Skip Hire are here to help.

For more information about how we could help you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of professionals today.