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by Craig Pryce December 13, 2019

Wheelie bins are a common sight across the streets of the UK and many other countries now but that hasn’t always been the case. So, what did people use before the wheelie bin was invented, and who invented it? Have bins changed much over the years?

We look at the answers to these probing questions and more in this blog post. While we are lucky enough to enjoy a very organised and hygienic household waste collection service in the UK now, it hasn’t always been the case.

Read on to delve into the wheelie bin’s past.

Who invented the first wheelie bin?

Ruins of Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the background

Nobody knows for sure who invented the world’s first wheelie bin however, history has given us many nods to the modern wheelie bin along the way.

In the Himalayas, prehistoric paintings were discovered that appeared to depict wheelie bins — certainly wheeled containers of some sort. It was decided that, in real life, these were most likely used to contain excess woolly mammoth bones.

Later in time, when the city of Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, what was presumed to be the fossilised remains of a wooden wheelie bin was found amongst the ruins.

In more recent history, humans have tried using plastic bags, metal cylindrical bins with separate lids and plastic cylindrical bins with separate lids outside their houses to be collected by the local council.

The bin bags posed public health issues as they were easily and often torn open, revealing the contents.

The plastic and metal cylindrical bins were OK but rather cumbersome for those emptying them. The plastic versions were also unable to be used to store hot ashes from fires.

However, it was the 1930s when the real wheelie bin action started to take place.

In 1930s America, cities were becoming aware of the importance of hygiene to human health.

The labour-intensive waste collection process of the time involved a horse-drawn cart and several men. Some cities had progressed to a truck by 1935, but not many.

In that year, George Dempster of the construction business Dempster Brothers Inc. invented the Dempster-Dumpster in the USA.

This invention came from Dempster’s first-hand experience with hauling construction waste and the dumpster was intended for use within his company alone. The dumpsters consisted of metal wheeled containers. A motorised vehicle was used to manoeuvre them.

Word spread of this labour-reducing invention and soon Dempster Brothers Inc. was inundated with orders from other construction companies interested in a Dempster-Dumpster.

The waste container became such a success that the brothers quit construction altogether to concentrate on manufacturing the dumpster!

Using 75 per cent less labour than the old methods, it’s no surprise the Dempster-Dumpster was such a hit. Only one person was required to load the metal waste wheelie bin and drive, too.

In the 1950s, the company invented the Dempster-Dumpmaster, which was probably the world’s first modern waste collection truck and containers.

This front-loading vehicle and metal containers made waste collection much easier and quicker. Unlike its predecessor, the Dumpmaster didn’t even require the truck driver to get out of the cab to load the waste container — and could empty several before needing to drop off the load at the landfill.

Modern waste trucks are all based on this original idea.

man loading wheelie bin onto waste recycling truck

Who invented the first plastic wheelie bin?

The modern plastic wheelie bin as we know it was invented by a company called Frank Rotherham Mouldings in the UK on 12 March 1968.

However, it wasn’t invented for waste to be collected from houses or businesses, but instead to transport waste from one side of the Frank Rotherham Mouldings factory to the other.

The wheelie bin was used for this function only until a health and safety inspector visited the factory for a routine inspection and spotted the bin’s potential as a waste container; saving workers from the back problems commonly associated with waste collection at the time.

Of course, the design has been modified and perfected since then. Wheelie bins are now very lightweight when empty, for example, and ours feature quality rubber wheels, easy-clean curves, and chipnests.

You can browse our entire collection of wheelie bins here.

Craig Pryce
Craig Pryce