14.05.2019 | Recycling tips

History of waste wagons

Fresh Start Waste provide a brief history of bin lorries and garbage vehicles.


While people have been taking their waste to landfill sites for more than 5,000 years, semi-organised collections of it didn’t take off until the 13th century, when England introduced a law in 1297 making it illegal for its citizens to leave rubbish outside their homes.

As with much legislation in the Middle Ages, word of the new enactment didn’t exactly get around the country quickly and it wasn’t until midway through the 14th century that ‘rakers’ became a common sight on the streets of London.

They would make weekly rounds and use a rake to help gather their rubbish into carts which would then be processed elsewhere: history’s first bin men and wagons. With resources scarce, anything which could be reused or recycled was.

Unfortunately, this came at a time of huge misfortune for people living in Europe, as the Black Death swept the continent with impunity.

It is estimated that up to 50 million people died between 1346-53 (around 60% of Europe’s population at the time), and with the rakers coming into regular contact with rats and their plague-spreading fleas, they were unknowingly on the front line, both as victims and in the fight against it.

The introduction of bin lorries marked a new era in waste management – one which has since evolved over time with increasing regulations and technology advancements in order to ensure public health and safety. Through it all, one thing remains constant: our proud history of bin lorries being at the forefront of taking care of our rubbish since the Middle Ages!

history of waste industrial revolution

The industrial revolution

By and large, not a lot changed in the world of waste collection up until the Industrial Revolution, when the sudden migration of people from the countryside swelled the population of cities.

Our home base, Manchester, is widely accepted as being the world’s first industrial city, and the subsequent growth of slums necessitated The Public Health Act of 1848.

Authored by Edwin Chadwick, he argued that public funds would be better spent on sanitation instead of what was known as ‘poor relief’. In those days, if you didn’t work you didn’t get any money, which meant you couldn’t afford to eat or rent a room for your family.

With the Old Age Pension not introduced until 1909, that also applied the elderly.

Not that many people lived to a ripe old age in Victorian slums, with the average life expectancy of a Mancunian being just 25 years, although this figure is lowered by a staggering infant mortality rate of 50%.

A massive cholera outbreak earlier in 1848 was the catalyst for change and while the Public Health Act didn’t oblige local authorities to follow its guidelines, it did recommend basic needs such as the provision of clean drinking water, sewers and the removal of all refuse from houses streets and roads.

Despite being in the middle of the Age Of Steam, waste wagons were still hauled by horses.

history of waste first motor wagon

The first motorised waste wagons

An update to the Public Health Act came around in 1875, which as well as stating that every town must have pavements and street lights, put it into law that each home should have a moveable bin. Fines were even issued to households which didn’t produce any rubbish.

The start of the history of bin lorries can be traced back to this period when, eventually, a drive for efficiency pushed local councils towards motorised bin lorries. In 1896, Chiswick in West London became the first place to bring in a steam-powered ‘motor tip-cars’ for whisking refuse off to landfill, incinerators and reclamation yards.

As the petrol engine came to the fore, so did flat bed trucks. They were bigger and faster, but the extra speed on bumpy cobbled streets caused a big problem: rubbish began to fall off and fly out of the uncovered wagons, leaving streams of stinking mess trailing off behind them.

The history of bin lorries is deeply intertwined with the early development of petrol engines and flat bed trucks. Remarkably, it took until the 1920s for covered trucks to become commonplace, but another issue remained. Lifting the bins and bags up to shoulder height was filthy, back breaking work.

history of bin lorries

External hopper trucks and rotary loaders

A mechanical solution arrived in 1929 with the invention of the compact Heil Colecto, an external hopper truck. This enabled bin men to load their garbage into a bucket on the side of the vehicle at waist height, which was then lifted up by a lever and tipped out the contents into wagon via a hole at the top.

In a clever design feature, this opening would be sealed when the bucket was down, meaning that nobody could accidentally fall into the collection area. One flaw, however, was that there was no way of evenly spreading the load, so trucks would be nowhere near full capacity when forced to head home.

This was overcome by installing a corkscrew mechanism (a rotary loader), which moved materials from the back of the container towards the front. It was originally designed for ash removal trucks but it turned out to be just as good for general waste, too.

history of bin lorrries

Commercial waste

The next evolution was dreamt up by George Dempster, the owner of a Tennessee-based construction company, Mayor of Knoxville, TN, and a renowned disability rights campaigner.

With commercial waste booming and becoming ever more difficult to collect in a post-war and post-depression world, he invented the Dempster-Dumpster. This front-end loader became the first ever large scale waste container which could be emptied entirely mechanically, and naturally, they also build the trucks which could pick the containers up.

They also included an innovation first seen on the Heil Colecto-Pak, a compaction panel which would tightly compress rubbish into the far end of the container, doubling the amount of trash a wagon could carry, and making sure that they were as full as possible by the end of their round.

Indeed, the latest addition to our fleet, Agy G, has a load capacity of 13,000kg, well in excess of what these early examples were capable of.

Modern waste wagons

The majority of contemporary garbage trucks have followed the template set down by George Dempster’s invention, whether they be rear, side or front end loaders. While there have been few giant technological leaps, advancement of the equipment has progressed at a steady rate.

Compactors can now be operated while the lorries are being driven, chewing ever more refuse on the go and significantly cutting down the amount of time they need to be on the road.

Environmental considerations mean that we carefully plan our routes in order to save fuel here at Fresh Start, while our vehicles all have engines which meet the latest stringent Euro 5 and 6 emission standards.

In 2016, we collected in excess of 40,000 tonnes of waste around the North West of England, a figure which looks set to rise in the coming years as we expand our fleet and client base around the region.

Fresh Start Waste truck, forest carbon

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