History of the Garbage Man

posted 9/23/2015

What little boy hasn’t wanted to be a garbage man? And what an important job it is! Ever wonder what life would be like without your garbage man and weekly garbage collection? It’s a modern-day convenience we take for granted, but it wouldn’t take long to be overrun with stinky, rotting garbage – AND a ripple effect that would wreak havoc on everything from personal health to the economy.

In ancient times, people fed their waste to animals. It was also burned, buried, or most often, pitched wherever someone happened to be. No one really saw garbage as a threat.

As populations grew, some cities became buried with trash and wound up building over the heaps to create new cities. Disease and vermin were rampant and, as a result, new ways were pioneered to control garbage. Recycling actually began as a necessity and wound up becoming a responsibility to the environment. Garbage has existed since the dawn of man, and will be with us as long as we inhabit the Earth. This history briefly summarizes the evolution of the way man has managed garbage overtime.

Earliest Garbage Management

  • 3000 B.C. – The first “landfill” was created when Knossos, Crete digs large holes for garbage and covers them with dirt.
  • 500 B.C.  – Athens, Greece creates new law proclaiming garbage must be dumped at least one mile from the city.
  • 1350 – The Black Plague killed about 25 million people in just 5 years. Around this time, Britain introduced the first garbage men, called Rakers, who raked trash (and anything else) into a cart each week. It was dangerous, filthy work resulting in a high mortality rate from illness.
  • 1407 – Britain passes a new law that garbage must be stored inside until Rakers could remove it. Most people burned personal trash, buried it or let it pile up.

1700-1900: Trial and Error

Booming populations and the industrial revolution meant more materials, trade, machinery AND garbage. Toshers, Mudlarks and Dustmen were nicknames given to the men who scavenged industrial by-products and garbage. They sold everything from dog feces (used in leather purification) to ash (added to mortar).

Around 1757, Ben Franklin started the first cleaning service and encouraged the public to dig pits to dispose of their waste. In 1885, America built its first incinerator on Governors Island, New York, but they were not largely used because of the cost, smell and toxic smoke.

1900-1920: Dumps

During this time, organized waste collection was developed in more than 70 percent of large U.S. cities and garbage collectors were the most common way it was done. Most garbage men used a horse and cart to collect the garbage and then dumped it in the oceans, wetlands, rivers or any other uninhabited areas. Around 1914, the horse drawn carts were replaced by covered, motorized trucks; and, just five years later, the rear loader truck made its debut.

1920-1970: New Rules

In 1934, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the dumping of municipal garbage into the ocean. During WWI, the country was forced to recycle rubber, paper, scrap metal and tin cans because of material shortages and recycling was born. In 1945, approximately 100 cities in the U.S. had some sort of landfill after burning dumps were, for the most part, prohibited. In the 60s, the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors formed and private hauling was born. Side-load garbage trucks were in use, compacting trash in the truck with a large hydraulic blade. This technology remains today.

In the mid-60s, the “Transfer Station” was introduced, and it helped haulers cut down on long travel times to landfills. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency was created, and recycling, resource recovery and the environment all become major concerns. New regulations went into effect for handling hazardous waste as well.

1970-Present – Waste Disposal Technology Evolves

Technology advancements allowed trucks to become larger, faster and safer. In the 90s, drivers began staying in their trucks, relying on powerful hydraulic arms and packers to collect the garbage. Residential trucks grab the garbage cart and toss the trash into the truck in one quick motion, then move on to the next house. Commercial trucks lift huge containers up and over to dump into the truck. This increased efficiency and profitability. Garbage collection is still evolving with the advent of Compressed Natural Gas fueled for fuel efficiency and other new technologies.

One thing that’s consistent in all the years is the garbage man! He is still the mainstay of the garbage collection system.