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The Flat Cap on ... Wheelie Bins

This morning The Flat Cap was separating out some of his household rubbish to ensure that he put it in the correct wheelie bin. Cardboard and paper here, tin cans there, an empty plastic bottle where once there was milk. It’s amazing just how much waste the average household generates in a week. All this recycling got The Flat Cap thinking about the humble wheelie bin so he decided to try to find out a little bit more about its origins and why it has become such a part of everyday life.

The wheelie bin can be traced back to Roman times. In AD79 the town of Pompeii was mostly destroyed by the eruption of the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius. Whilst this wasn’t very nice for the town’s inhabitants, who were largely killed and buried under tons of volcanic ash, it was a real bonus for archaeologists and historians. Centuries later the archaeologists began digging (as archaeologists do) and found that the ash had inhibited air and moisture from destroying Pompeii’s artefacts. Their excavations uncovered lots of interesting stuff, but arguably nothing more exciting than the fossilized remains of a wooden wheelie bin. History does not record what it was used for, or whether the Romans had different bins for different types of waste. Nevertheless there is a general consensus that the Romans were a pretty civilized bunch. As well as wheelie bins they also had public baths, splendid amphitheatres, and proper pavements. This meant the townsfolk could wear flip flops during the summer months, and save their stout footwear for winter and digging over the garden. Some of them probably had allotments too.

Despite the eighteenth century fossilized find it seems the significance of the humble wheelie bin was overlooked for a further two hundred years. That was until 1968, when the Slough based company Frank Rotherham Mouldings invented the forerunner of the wheelie bin we know and love today. Initially used to transport waste from one part of the factory to another these boxes on wheels were spotted by an eagle-eyed health and safety inspector called Terry. Terry in turn told his bosses at the council, and they in turn told the man who was in charge of the dustbin lorries. The man who was in charge of the dustbin lorries was nearing retirement so he just filed the report. It wasn’t until the 1990s that another man at the council called Stuart was clearing out some old filing cabinets and found Terry’s report. But in between 1968 and 1990 someone had thought to invent plastic wheelie bins. And someone else, equally clever, had designed bin lorries that could lift up the wheelie bins and empty their contents into the lorries. And until the wheelie bin’s introduction the bin men, or refuse collecting operatives as the council now likes to term them, continued to suffer from bad backs.

When wheelie bins were first introduced they were pretty big. A standard wheelie bin used to have a capacity of 240 litres. Nowadays it is more common for them to be 140 litres or 180 litres. This is all to do with recycling. The Flat Cap has a bin for his garden waste, one for his paper and cardboard, and one for his bottles and tins. And there’s then another bin for everything else. If you put paper in the bottles bin, or the tins in the garden waste bin the refuse collectors will refuse to empty it. If you continue to make mistakes with your rubbish you can even be fined or sent to prison. The Flat Cap’s local UKIP candidate explained that under EU directives Britain has committed to recycle half of all household waste by the year 2020. The Flat Cap thinks that recycling is a good idea but since the Brexit vote he sometimes puts recyclable waste in the “everything else bin”; especially if he is feeling tired or it is raining. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and being a wheelie bin rebel is The Flat Cap’s way of protesting against the EU’s own wastefulness. He also thinks refuse collectors looked more jolly when they worked directly for the council and had proper pensions.

The driver of the bin lorry that collects The Flat Cap’s garden waste (green bin every Monday, except on Bank Holidays when it’s a day later) is called Norman. Unsurprisingly Norman knows lots about wheelie bins and he wrote down the following interesting bin related facts whilst on his tea break. He told The Flat Cap he could use them in this article, so here they are:

  • The lady who founded the Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection is called Doretta Cocks

  • The Public Health Act 1875, which was passed by Benjamin Disraeli’s Conservative administration, first made it a legal requirement for councils to empty household bins

  • If all the world’s wheelie bins were laid end to end they would reach to Mars and back; a distance of more than 109 million kilometres

  • In 2010 a lady was spotted dumping a four year old cat into a wheelie bin in Coventry. The incident was caught on CCTV and spawned a Facebook group which called for the woman’s death. The group contravened the website’s terms of use and was removed

  • Swiss designer Stephan Bischof took a black wheelie bin and adapted it into a urinal in an attempt to stop people taking a piddle on the streets of South London

  • In 2007 police in Barnsley, South Yorkshire reported that teenagers were deliberately setting wheelie bins on fire so they could inhale the fumes

  • There’s a wheelie bin artist who calls himself “Binsy”

  • Days after the UK Brexit vote a man in Skegness built his own border crossing by blockading his street with wheelie bins. The man was arrested after head butting a neighbour who refused to produce his passport at the wheelie bin border

  • Wacky inventor Colin Furze made a motorised wheelie bin so he could play pranks on unsuspecting Lincolnshire bin men and members of the public

  • In 2011 Darwen dad Ted Mountain lived in a wheelie bin for two days and nights to raise money for Children in Need. Unlike the one adapted by Stephan Bischof (see above) Ted used his own bin, and was allowed out for a five minutes toilet break every hour

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