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by Craig Pryce October 13, 2022

It isn’t easy to imagine a world without dustbins or, as we refer to them now, wheelie bins. A typical sight across the streets of the UK, bin collection day is a permanent imprint in the lives of residential households and the daily running of commercial businesses.

From the sound of rolling wheels along driveways as bins are moved to their collection point to the hoisting of our waste into the rear of the bin lorry, it makes you wonder, “where and when did wheelie bins start?”

Discover the history of the dustbin, who invented the wheelie bin, and how it’s evolved over the years to become the organised and hygienic waste collection service we rely on today.

Who invented wheelie bins?

Ruins of Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the background

Nobody (not even historians) can agree on when and where the first dustbin/wheelie bin originated. However, some notable discoveries along the way tip their hat to the modern wheelie bin.

In the Himalayas, explorers discovered prehistoric paintings that appeared to depict wheelie bins, or primitive wheeled containers of some sort. Historians decided these were most likely used to contain excess woolly mammoth bones.

Later, when the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii in AD 79, what was presumed to be the fossilised remains of a wooden cart used for collecting rubbish were found among the ruins. Although a far cry from the modern plastic wheelie bin, they still served the same purpose, while being manoeuvrable on wheels and providing evidence that the Romans paved the way for recycling rubbish.

It’s doubtful either of these “waste containers” would have been referred to as wheelie bins, mainly as they were used in non-English speaking countries.

We can also trace the word dustbin and its roots to outside the UK. It was on the other side of the English Channel where Frenchman Eugène-René Poubelle introduced waste containers to Paris and made their use compulsory.

He came up with the idea of a dustbin and proposed the concept of recycling. Each building would have three wooden containers lined with metal and a lid. A designated waste stream was assigned to each container – one for compostable material, one for papers and cloth, and one for crockery, glass, and oyster shells.

Even though Parisians didn’t respond favourably to Poubelle’s ideas, he did manage to get his way with his dustbin idea, albeit with a little compromise. On March 7, 1885, Poubelle decreed that the first-ever municipal rubbish collections in the Capital be carried out daily by horse and cart. However, each building would only use one container for everything and not worry about selectively dividing their waste between multiple containers.

Poubelle’s influence still looms large today. Flick through the Larousse dictionary, and you will find the word poubelle (entered in 1890). Its modern definition is “Recipient for household waste.”

When were wheelie bins introduced?

Recently, humans have used plastic bags, cylindrical metal bins with separate lids, and cylindrical plastic bins with separate lids for general household waste collection by the local council.

The bin bags posed public health issues as they were easily and often torn open, revealing the contents. In contrast, although satisfactory, the cylindrical plastic and cylindrical metal bins were rather cumbersome for those emptying them. Plastic versions were also unable to be used to store hot ashes from fires.

Yet, it was in 1930s America that the first real wheelie bin action started to take place. 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 trucks by 1935, but many were still stuck with the archaic method.

That year, George Dempster of the construction business Dempster Brothers Inc. devised the Dempster-Dumpster in the USA. This invention came from Dempster’s first-hand experience hauling construction waste, and the dumpster was intended for use within his company alone. The dumpsters consisted of metal-wheeled containers and a motorised vehicle 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 start 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.

In the 1950s, the company invented the Dempster-Dumpmaster, which was likely the world’s first modern waste collection truck and containers. This front-loading vehicle and metal containers made waste collection easier and quicker.

Unlike its predecessor, the Dumpmaster didn’t require the truck driver to get out of the cab to load the waste container. They could also 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 Frank Rotherham Mouldings in the UK on March 12 1968.

However, it wasn’t invented for waste to for household or business waste collection, but instead to transport waste from one side of the Frank Rotherham Mouldings factory to the other.

The company used the wheelie bin for this function 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.

Of course, the design has been modified and perfected since then. Wheelie bins are now lightweight when empty, easy to clean, and safer for refuse movers to transport than the old heavy metal, wheelless design.

When were recycling bins introduced in the UK?

The UK initially lagged behind the States regarding the introduction of recycling bins. In 1974, the state of Missouri branched out into paper recycling with “The Tree Saver”, aka the first curbside-recycling bin.

As for the UK, it wasn’t until October 30 2003 that the government passed the Household Waste Recycling Act to enable everyone to recycle at home. The Act meant local authorities in England were required to provide every household with a separate collection of at least two types of recyclable materials by 2010.

How many wheelie bins are there in the UK?

Around 30 million of the 400 million tonnes of waste we produce in the UK each year comes from our household wheelie bins. While 240 litres is the most popular, the sizes of household bins can range from 140 to 360 litres.

While innovations are happening in the industry, such as the almost robotic ‘smart bin’, our offering at Wheelie Bin Solutions rivals any rubbish collection in the modern age. 

Whether you’re a household or business looking for a wheelie bin, WBS bins feature quality rubber wheels, easy-clean curves, and chip nests as standard. They are also available in many colours to easily separate your waste for recycling.

Contact our dedicated team today; as they say, the rest is history.

Craig Pryce

Craig Pryce