29 Things You Didn’t Know About Garbage (But You Should)

It all started 12.000 years ago – long before plastic bags or skips entered our lives. Waste a bit of your time to read these weird facts about garbage; they will make you feel surprisingly clean.

* Parental Advisory: this article contains only trash talk.

1. As early as 10000 BC human waste becomes an issue; people begin to settle down in permanent settlements and the idea of hanging out with buffalo bones and banana skins every night seems somewhat repulsive.

2. The first landfill was created in Knossos, around 3000 BC, when Cretans would dig large holes for refuse. After dumping the garbage the holes were filled with dirt.

3. In 500 BC a new law is voted in Athens, Greece, redirecting the garbage dumping at least one mile away from the city. Can you spot the lesson on democracy here? “Let the others deal with your trash”.

4. In 200 AD a sanitation force is created in Rome: small teams of two men walk through the streets with the sole purpose of picking up garbage and putting it into wagons. What is widely known, today, as “Trash Romana”.

5. Around 1350, and just in a 5 year period, the Black Death kills approximately 25.000.000 people in Europe, an estimated 30%-60% of the population at the time. The Bubonic Plague, which is believed to have caused it along with Cholera and Typhoid Fever, was perpetuated by filth that harboured rats and contaminated water supply.

6. The first official garbage men in modern history appear in Britain in the mid-14th century. “Rakers” just… rake up the trash into carts on a weekly basis. No strikes were reported during that period.

7. In 1400, piles of litter rise so high outside of Parisian gates that they affect the city’s defence during the Hundred Years’ War. Back then Paris wasn’t the “City of Lights”; just the “City of Flies”.

8. In 1657 a new law against dropping litter in the streets is voted in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan). The efforts intensify a few centuries later, so that Sex & the City’s Carrie Bradshaw can walk around carefree in her high heel Manolo Blahniks.

9. The U.S.A blaze a trail in metal recycling as early as 1776, when patriots in New York City melt down a gilded statue of King George III to make bullets. To fight against him. See the irony here?

10. Back in 1800 New York City apparently didn’t make it into travel brochures as it was described as a “nasal disaster, where some streets smell like bad eggs dissolved in ammonia”. It already was “the city that never sleeps”, since no one could sleep under the circumstances.

11. In 1834 a law protecting vultures from hunters in Charleston, West Virginia, is voted. Not thanks to ecologists, but thanks to the birds’ dietary habits of eating garbage.

12. The Paris sewer system starts to get built during the second half of the 19th century. There are long delays, though, due to the persistent complaints of property owners, who resist the idea of paying from their own money for the installation of sanitary piping to their buildings. Socialism is born.

13. “The Destructor”, as promising as it may sound, is a pioneer technology that appears in 1874 in England. Built by Manlove, Alliott & Co. Ltd., the Destructor provides the first systematic incineration of refuse in Nottingham. Up to that point burning refuse had been mostly incidental, due to methane production.

14. In 1893 Tchaikovsky dies in Saint Petersburg. Many attribute his death to cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier. From the Swamp Lake.

15. The turn of the century finds the residents of smaller and medium sized American towns building piggeries. The daily menu for the pigs involves fresh or cooked garbage. As in “today’s specials are leftovers a la gallega and cellophane salad. Enjoy!”

16. In 1907 Mary Mallon, a cook in New York, becomes the first American to be traced and diagnosed as a carrier of typhoid fever, thus earning the nickname “Typhoid Mary”. After spending three years in quarantine, she takes up a new position as a cook under a false name, although the Commissioner of Health has warned her not to return to her job as a cook. Typhoid fever didn’t kill her, though; pneumonia did, after she had spent 25 years in quarantine for typhoid fever. Today she is closely associated with fifty-three cases and three deaths of typhoid fever.

17. Harry Wasylyk and Larry Hansen invent the much appreciated green plastic garbage bag in 1950.

18. In the 1970s, Richard Biffa introduces the skip bin into his waste business. Today, skip hire is one of the most profitable industries in the UK with London being the most expensive city to hire skips of any size and Nottingham the cheapest in the 6 yard category.

19. In 1972 Michael D. Cohen, James G. March and Johan Olsen publish the academic paper A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice on a decision making model which disconnects problems, solutions and decision makers from each other.

20. Whether you believe it or not, Garbology refers to the study of refuse and trash and is considered an actual science. It all started in 1973 at the University of Arizona, thanks to Professor William Rathje and to an idea that two students had for a class project.

21. In 1978 the enactment of a new law makes it compulsory for dog owners in New York City to clean up after their pets. It is estimated that until then 40.000.000 pounds of dog excrement were deposited on the streets every year.

22. During the Olympic Games of 1984 in Los Angeles, athletes, trainers, coaches and spectators produce 6.5 million pounds of trash in 22 days. That is more than 6 pounds per person per day.

23. Due to the 1995 terror bombings in France, most of the public garbage bins have been replaced by transparent plastic bags.

24. The biggest fan of rubbish E-V-E-R is Oscar the Grouch, the character in the children’s series Sesame Street. He lives in a trash can and his most famous song is called “I Love Trash”. (At least he teaches honesty to the little ones.)

Sesame Street – I Love Trash

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25. Today, 42% of our garbage is paper and textiles. Metal, plastic, and glass make up 23%, waste from gardens and parks 18% and food waste 7% of our garbage.

26. Europe generates more than 1.8 billion tonnes of waste every year.

27. It is estimated that the average American produces  64 tons of waste over his lifetime.

28. Garbage patchologists claim that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest garbage dump, is twice the size of Texas or 6 times the size of the UK. And it keeps growing and floating. Coming soon to a beach near you.

29. About 19,000 pieces of space debris, larger than 5 cm, are tracked orbiting around the Earth, with another 300,000 pieces smaller than 1 cm below a 2000 km altitude. For more information on safe space travel read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Famous Quotes

“In Beverly Hills they don’t throw their garbage away; they make it into TV shows.” Woody Allen denounces an illegal landfill operating on American soil.

“The best way to prepare to be a programmer is to write programs and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Centre and fished out listings of their operating system.” Bill Gates openly associates Microsoft with garbage.

“I’ve been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one would take the garbage out.” American actress Lee Grant on the real face of politics.

“I’ve loved men that wear un-ironed clothes, it doesn’t make me fall out of love. When you love someone, you should see beyond their image. It just makes me want to iron their shirt. But once you love a person, they could wear a garbage bag!” Olga Kurylenko is a fan of trash fashion.

“The Beliebers have done some pretty crazy stuff. Last week, the night before I was due to do a show in Germany, four girls went into a dumpster so they could sneak into the building. They climbed in and hid. When the guys working on the truck started getting the garbage they found them straight away. It was crazy.” Justin Bieber places fans of his music where, some say, they belong; in the trash.

“Can’t have dirty garbage!” Spongebob Squarepants spreads anarchism to Bikini Bottom.

 Homer Simpson in a rare moment of optimism

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* Caution: Garbage bins tend to be sneaky; they will go behind your back when you least expect it.

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About the Author

Lauren King

Lauren works in our Ecommerce Team, with over 6 years of experience at HSS. She brings product knowledge and is able to give her advice on the right tool for the job no matter how big or small.

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