Conveyance of Rubbish

Greg Wetzel

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Back in the days of steam, how was rubbish conveyed? For example, were the bags loaded into open wagons, and then covered with tarpaulins to ensure the bags didn't fly out?
 
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WesternLancer

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Back in the days of steam, how was rubbish conveyed? For example, were the bags loaded into open wagons, and then covered with tarpaulins to ensure the bags didn't fly out?
Did they have much rubbish to convey (well at least before the 1950s and early 60s)? It's an interesting thought. Before the consumer society got fully going there was a lot less rubbish to deal with, and more of it was organic - food waste trimmings type stuff. Far less wrapping paper or containers etc., esp before the rise of plastics. People burned stuff at home on the fireplace often so the rubbish became ash , or buried other stuff in the garden, food bottles / jars etc would often be returnable, for money - those Victorian medicine bottles you dig up for example - tho obv not in dense city housing with no gardens.

I got a sense of what this might have been like when as a student I went to Poland in 1991. Stuff you got in shops was just handed to you unwrapped on many cases, there was no litter on the streets on the whole as there was nothing to drop as litter (there was lots of dust and grit against the kerbs but not western European style litter of wrapping, cans etc etc), I got beer from the local shop for I think about 20p a bottle, but c10p was refundable with the bottle I think ! I assume the costs of bottle production was greater than the cost of beer production so the bottle was of high proportionate value to the brewer.

Having said all this, there must have been some rubbish to convey, but towns were smaller so tips may have been not very far away etc?

A thought provoking post!
 

The exile

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Did they have much rubbish to convey (well at least before the 1950s and early 60s)? It's an interesting thought. Before the consumer society got fully going there was a lot less rubbish to deal with, and more of it was organic - food waste trimmings type stuff. Far less wrapping paper or containers etc., esp before the rise of plastics. People burned stuff at home on the fireplace often so the rubbish became ash , or buried other stuff in the garden, food bottles / jars etc would often be returnable, for money - those Victorian medicine bottles you dig up for example - tho obv not in dense city housing with no gardens.

I got a sense of what this might have been like when as a student I went to Poland in 1991. Stuff you got in shops was just handed to you unwrapped on many cases, there was no litter on the streets on the whole as there was nothing to drop as litter (there was lots of dust and grit against the kerbs but not western European style litter of wrapping, cans etc etc), I got beer from the local shop for I think about 20p a bottle, but c10p was refundable with the bottle I think ! I assume the costs of bottle production was greater than the cost of beer production so the bottle was of high proportionate value to the brewer.

Having said all this, there must have been some rubbish to convey, but towns were smaller so tips may have been not very far away etc?

A thought provoking post!
In general, refuse disposal would historically have been a much more local affair - aided by the fact that, as you say, there was a lot less of it. The conveyance of containerised rubbish by train (what became known as the "binliners") started in the UK in 1977. I doubt rail had been involved at all in the carriage of domestic waste (as opposed to the industrial variety) before then.
In terms of the "urban waste scene", (i.e. litter) - it wasn't so much the rise of the consumer society in the 50s and 60s but the fast food boom of the last couple of decades. Remember the days when the majority of "litter" was fag ends and used bus tickets?
 
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ChiefPlanner

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Most rubbish in the developing UK 19thC was got rid of locally - either burnt in "destructors" or domestically , and there was a level of what we could call recycling by commercial means - rag and bone men , old bottles etc.

As cities - particularly London got bigger - there grew up a few hauls of domestic rubbish and "street sweepings - manure and straw" - were worked out of the city to a few nominated tips - one flow from Herne Hill to the Kent Marshes and a well known one from Ashburton Grove North London to Ayot in Hertfrdshire. At these locations , the waste would be picked over and much given to local farmers to spread on the fields. A lot of the waste would be ash from domestic fireplaces.

I think most of the waste was in open wagons , loose, but sheeted over. Mostly moved at night and there are anecdotal tales of how train crew hated it , as the stuff stunk to high heaven. The wagons were kept in circuit working to save having to thoroughly clean them after each trip.

Trivia - local power generation here in St Albans - what became known as the North Met company , fired it's generators on a mix of cheap grade coal and city rubbish , such that on occasions the arrival of a loaded cart was welcomed as pressure was dropping and demand was up !
 

krus_aragon

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I suspect the local Rag and Bone Men etc. would have collected and processed much of the local waste materials (i.e. selling them to manufacturers/recyclers), so there wouldn't be much need for hauling waste around the railways. Combine that with the convenient incinerators available in every household hearth, and there probably wasn't much to haul in the early part of the railway age.

In the 1880s, Eugène Poubelle* first arranged for the houses of Paris to be provided with receptacles for sorting(!) waste into, and then collected. So that's probably where the search for any railway involvement would begin.

*namesake of the French word for "bin"
 
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Grumpy Git

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Back in the days of steam, how was rubbish conveyed? For example, were the bags loaded into open wagons, and then covered with tarpaulins to ensure the bags didn't fly out?

The idea that the "black bin bag" existed in the days of steam has made me chuckle.

When I was a kid the dustbin never had a liner and it was only dust and tin cans inside it, everything else went on the "back of the fire".
 

The exile

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Other than sewage (a different matter) - for many years the principle waste which would have needed to be collected from domestic properties (particularly those without gardens) would have been ash (hence "dustbin" etc)
 

ChiefPlanner

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The idea that the "black bin bag" existed in the days of steam has made me chuckle.

When I was a kid the dustbin never had a liner and it was only dust and tin cans inside it, everything else went on the "back of the fire".

We had a Rayburn - a sort of AGA - which ran 24/7 , heated the water and the house , and was a very effective cooking range. Even with free coal (my father was an NCB Manager) - like everyone , a lot of combustible rubbish was slung into the firebox. (vegetable etc waste was composted) - the only downside was one day when my mother slung a chicken carcass in which stunk the whole area out for hours. Strong neighbour complaints followed.

There was never more than a half binfull to get rid of - and that was ashes and tins. Bottles were deposit friendly.

Thanks for the Eugene Poubelle mention , must be deeply satisfying to be remembered nationally as a "bin man"
 

Gloster

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A couple of small points. Paper, wood and some waste cloth was often kept back as it could be used for lighting fires. As far as the railway was concerned, broken equipment was often not just chucked away as it needed to be returned to stores in order to obtain a replacement. That and other equipment would be sent to the appropriate workshop for repair or removal of any reusable parts before any ‘recyclable’ remains were disposed of for melting down, etc. as part of a bulk lot.
 

DerekC

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At my ancient age I can recall the days before plastic wrapping and bottles really got going, and used pop bottles were a useful source of income when returned to the local co-op. However many years ago I did some work on a construction project in the Pitsea marshes, which had been used as a tip for waste from London for many centuries. Evidently the sailing barges went down to Pitsea full of rubbish and came back loaded with farm produce for the London market! So rubbish was certainly a problem for big cities and it seems likely that railways saw this as a business opportunity somewhere - but not where there was a handy river!
 

kermit

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I'm sure I remember reading that one of the initial Victorian era traffic flows on the Lymm line from Skelton Junction towards Warrington was "night soil" (human excrement and urine, maybe mixed with coal fire ash?) from densely-populated Manchester, to be spread as fertiliser on Cheshire fields. This was discontinued, perhaps as evidence of the toxic contents of unprocessed human waste became apparent.
 

StephenHunter

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The Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street, which had tracks going into its basement from the boat train area (Platforms 9 & 10) got rid of its fire ash through the trains that delivered clean bedding and other supplies.
 

WesternLancer

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Obv this is a good opp for a plug for this British Transport Film which gives an idea of the late 1950s litter issue


In terms of the "urban waste scene", (i.e. litter) - it wasn't so much the rise of the consumer society in the 50s and 60s but the fast food boom of the last couple of decades. Remember the days when the majority of "litter" was fag ends and used bus tickets?
Good point - before my own time however.

The idea that the "black bin bag" existed in the days of steam has made me chuckle.

When I was a kid the dustbin never had a liner and it was only dust and tin cans inside it, everything else went on the "back of the fire".
Yes, even into the early 1980s (and well before wheelie bin systems) I think our 4 person household had 2 metal dustbins. I don't think we filled them both each week, for the weekly collection. Bin liners were not really used in our household (not sure why). Volume of those 2 bins would I reckon be no more than 50% of one modern std sized wheelie bin.
Meanwhile it was bin day today on our street and some neighbors are away so I wheeled their bin out, full and very heavy, which in my experience often means a fair bit of uneaten food or other waste with high water content.

I recall an Antiques Road Show a while back where a retired bin man had a selection of (genuinely interesting) treasure on display that he had got from his rounds. He pointed out that the rise of the black bin bag and modern wheelie bins meant you had no real idea what was going in the back of the lorry any more really and no doubt all sorts of treasure could go undetected.
 
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PeterC

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When waste was primarily ash and fragments of unburnt coal it was often mixed with brick clay. This would burn during the firing of the bricks reasulting in the speckling that you can see in London stock bricks in Victorian housing.
 

WesternLancer

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In our house it was because the hot ashes would have gone straight through the bottom, (we only ever had galvanised bins).
Good point.

For us in the 1970s etc we had galv bins but no open fire (central heating from 1968) so that was not an issue. IIRC food waste / off cuttings would get wrapped in newspaper or a plastic shopping bag, and then placed in that in the kitchen bin, with no bin liner in it, which would then get periodically emptied into the galv bin outside. Maybe by late 70s / early 80s my parents discovered the benefits of a kitchen bin liner.

So even in the 1970s, without a fire at home to burn any of the waste that could be burned, there was still a lot less waste to throw out each week.
 

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In terms of litter spread around the countryside, it's the modern habit of eating and drinking on the move that does the damage. We do an annual litter sweep along the main road through our village. We typically collect about twenty large bags per mile. 95%+ of the items are plastic food wrappings of various kinds and plastic drink bottles. You can expect a few bits of car and a sprinkling of farmers' fertiliser bags as well. Most of the bottles are empty but some not - and if not, the instructions are to stay well clear of the contents!
 

snowball

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I'm sure I remember reading that one of the initial Victorian era traffic flows on the Lymm line from Skelton Junction towards Warrington was "night soil" (human excrement and urine, maybe mixed with coal fire ash?) from densely-populated Manchester, to be spread as fertiliser on Cheshire fields. This was discontinued, perhaps as evidence of the toxic contents of unprocessed human waste became apparent.
Later it was taken in ships down the Manchester Ship Canal and maybe dumped at sea?
 

Taunton

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There was a lot of domestic burning. Cardboard cartons from the kitchen went on the domestic coal fire and thus up the chimney (along with letters to Santa - separate discussion). Garden refuse went on a "bonfire" and was burned on Sunday afternoons. Our neighbour Mr Brace had a liking for this and was known as "Bonfire Brace" all up and down the road.

I think the first "Binliners" were from London to the old brick pits in Bedfordshire, being filled in. There have been a number since. Probably 1970s.

Before then a proportion of domestic waste was the ash/residue from domestic fires. These had not burned very efficiently, and there was a lot of residual energy in the remainings which fired the waste disposal plant where it was all burned. These were actually quite efficient. For steam railways, the (very) considerable quantities of loco ash from fire cleaning at depots were just loaded into open wagons, sheeted, and dumped in convenient places, along with spent ballast. I believe the LNER/ER had such a substantial disposal site between Huntingdon and Peterborough.

Onetime wooden-bodied/framed railway carriages, wagons, and trams and pre-war buses, were typically set fire in scrapyards, maybe at the back of the works, and the ironwork then recovered. Bit unhygenic (it included the asbestos insulation :( ), as it was just done on open ground. There was some concern about pest disease from old wood.

In terms of litter spread around the countryside, it's the modern habit of eating and drinking on the move that does the damage. We do an annual litter sweep along the main road through our village. We typically collect about twenty large bags per mile. 95%+ of the items are plastic food wrappings of various kinds and plastic drink bottles. You can expect a few bits of car and a sprinkling of farmers' fertiliser bags as well. Most of the bottles are empty but some not - and if not, the instructions are to stay well clear of the contents!
That roadside litter is caused by motorists discarding it is commonly overstated. Much is actually from insecured rubbish vehicles, rubbish bags attacked by foxes, debris from accidents, poor practice by the dustbin truck crew, and other such sources.
 
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Mcr Warrior

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That roadside litter is caused by motorists discarding it is commonly overstated. Much is actually from insecured rubbish vehicles, rubbish bags attacked by foxes, debris from accidents, poor practice by the dustbin truck crew, and other such sources.
Tend to disagree with that broadbrush assertion.

Roadside litter is particularly noticeable near to temporary traffic lights where the occupants have taken the opportunity, during the time held at the lights, to dispose of any and all litter out of the vehicle's windows. <D
 

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The last traditional rubbish trains appear to have been the ones from Ashburton Grove and Kings Cross Goods to Blackbridge Sidings east of Wheathampstead on the old Welwyn-Luton line, which ceased in May 1971. The first of the new generation services was from Brentford to Appleford, which started in March 1977.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Tend to disagree with that broadbrush assertion.

Roadside litter is particularly noticeable near to temporary traffic lights where the occupants have taken the opportunity, during the time held at the lights, to dispose of any and all litter out of the vehicle's nearest window. <D

Ditto light controlled roundabouts. Get a red - chuck out your crap. The evidence is everywhere. Anyway - way off topic.

Victorian landau drivers and mail carts were more genteel , but Victorians chucking bottles etc out of excursion trains was a well known thing.
 

Mcr Warrior

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I'm sure I remember reading that one of the initial Victorian era traffic flows on the Lymm line from Skelton Junction towards Warrington was "night soil" (human excrement and urine, maybe mixed with coal fire ash?) from densely-populated Manchester, to be spread as fertiliser on Cheshire fields. This was discontinued, perhaps as evidence of the toxic contents of unprocessed human waste became apparent.
Believe the practice had more-or-less been discontinued by the mid-1930s when the need for Manchester Corporation to arrange for the regular emptying of the accumulated contents (these contents sometimes euphemistically referred to as "night soil") of its residents' "pail closets" and its transportation to out-of-town places such as Chat Moss and Carrington Moss for use as a fertiliser, was eventually obviated by the more widespread use of water closets (flush toilets). :|
 

LSWR Cavalier

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Ditto light controlled roundabouts. Get a red - chuck out your crap. The evidence is everywhere. Anyway - way off topic.

Victorian landau drivers and mail carts were more genteel , but Victorians chucking bottles etc out of excursion trains was a well known thing.
Tour de France cyclists do or did discard their drinking bottles with a good conscience, for adoring fans gathered them as souvenirs.
 

6Gman

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There was a regular service between Sheffield (Blackburn Meadows) and a tipping site in the Mexborough area carrying human waste from the municipal sewage works for disposal.

Its approach to Rotherham prompted the local trainspotters to disperse with cries of "Here comes the **** train!". It leaked, and from time to time a door would fail spreading the contents generously.
 

30907

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Good point.

For us in the 1970s etc we had galv bins but no open fire (central heating from 1968) so that was not an issue. IIRC food waste / off cuttings would get wrapped in newspaper or a plastic shopping bag, and then placed in that in the kitchen bin, with no bin liner in it, which would then get periodically emptied into the galv bin outside. Maybe by late 70s / early 80s my parents discovered the benefits of a kitchen bin liner.
Suddenly brings back memories of lining the kitchen bin with newspaper (in the days of broadsheets). Mid 70s onwards.
 

Bald Rick

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Tend to disagree with that broadbrush assertion.

Roadside litter is particularly noticeable near to temporary traffic lights where the occupants have taken the opportunity, during the time held at the lights, to dispose of any and all litter out of the vehicle's windows. <D

Also down some lanes near me, no houses anywhere near for the foxes / bin men, and comfortably a bin bag full of cans / bottles / fast food containers every month.

The last traditional rubbish trains appear to have been the ones from Ashburton Grove and Kings Cross Goods to Blackbridge Sidings east of Wheathampstead on the old Welwyn-Luton line

I walked that recently and was astonished to find out how recently it closed (from an info board on the route).
 

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