The History of Wheelie Bins

Origins of the Wheelie Bin

Although it is unknown where the term Wheelie Bin originated it is generally used in the United Kingdom and certain other parts of the world particularly in Australia and parts of the United States to refer to two wheeled plastic rubbish bins as supplied by local authorities to facilitate the storage and collection of domestic waste.

It is true however that wheelie bins available in larger sizes for commercial generally stand on a set of four wheels whereas the two wheeled variety stand on their base and have to be pivoted towards the user in order to move the bin across the ground. The four wheel wheelie bin is generally known as a dumpster in the United States.  Four wheel bins are often made of plastic but are also available made of metal and come with either a flat or roll top lid. Like the two wheel bin, they can be lifted and emptied by suitably equipped refuse vehicles. These vehicles have mechanised automatic lifters which pick the wheelie bin off the ground at the rear of the vehicle, lift them into the vehicle depositing the garbage within and then lower the emptied bin back to the ground.  Wheelie bins are popular due to their high storage capacity, resistance to damage or corrosion and ease of emptying.

Wheelie bins are now commonplace across Europe, Asia and North America, where they have become the waste storage container of choice.

In Europe the Sulo company patented what we consider to be and has come to be known as The Wheelie Bin as far back as 1974 although wheelie bins were not seen much in the UK before the early 1980's. Now wheelie bins are everywhere and are the preferred method of waste and refuse disposal for most local authorities and waste management companies. This is down to the fact that they have considerably reduced the wast disposal operative's workload considerably. 

Increasing Refuse Collection Efficiency

The Death of The Dustbin

Up until the late nineteen seventies, the traditional method of domestic waste storage and disposal in the United Kingdom was the metal dustbin. These dustbins while adequate for many households posed significant problems given that they were difficult to move when full and were prone to rust. Dustbins also have limited storage capacity and larger families would sometimes need several of them to store a full weeks worth of domestic refuse.

In the nineteen eighties and nineties, local authorities in the United Kingdom faced increasing pressure to cut costs and streamline refuse collection procedures. Combined with increasing domestic and European health and safety regulations relating to working practices for refuse collection operatives many councils looked for a safer and more efficient methods of collecting domestic waste.

Considerations in selecting a replacement to the traditional dustbin included the following:

(a) The need to reduce the possibility of spinal injury to operatives from lifting and transporting heavy dustbins from the resident's premises to the refuse collection vehicle. Apart from the moral aspect of protecting their employees from injury, councils and other organisations became more aware of the need to reduce sickness related absences due to injury and avoid possible claims for compensation by employees under increasingly rigorous health and safety laws.

(b) The need to reduce injury hazards to operatives from handling rubbish containing items such as broken glass, corrosive, or biohazard substances.

(c)The need to reduce the risk of operatives being attacked by vermin attracted to rubbish stored in the open in plastic bags or boxes. In addition, rubbish stored in the open or in plastic rubbish bags could attract rats which are known to cause a major health hazard to humans buy infection from contact with their urine. 

(d) The need to reduce the amount of time taken to collect, empty and return rubbish containers to each household on the collection run. A large component of the time taken collecting refuse was spent by the operatives having to enter residential sites to collect the dustbins which sometimes would be some distance from the road and the dustbins stored in inaccessible places. Operatives also faced hazards from dogs and poor quality walking surfaces such as heavily iced driveways in winter, over which the council had no control. 

(e)To provide a standardised lifting mechanism at the rear of refuse collection vehicles that would facilitate automatic lifting and emptying of rubbish bins thereby eliminating the injury hazard to operatives caused by lifting heavy bins into the dustcart to empty them.

The Wheelie Bin As A Solution

The wheelie bin provided the ideal solution to these problems. Every household would be provided with a standard wheelie bin and instructions would be given to residents to place their wheelie bins at the boundary of their property for collection on the day that their rubbish collection. This would have a major impact on speeding up the rubbish collection process for the following reasons, refuse disposal operatives would no longer have to enter individual premises to collect rubbish, the refuse collection vehicle could progress along a road at almost walking speed with the operatives running behind collecting the wheelie bins from the front of premises. The vehicle would briefly stop while two wheelie bins at a time were placed in the automatic lifter, emptied and quickly returned to the edge of the residents premises.

Reduction of Refuse Collection Hazards

Hazards such as attacks by residents dogs would be eliminated as the operatives would no longer have to enter private properties at all thus reducing possible compensation claims and lost productivity for councils. The larger storage capacity of the bins meant that there would only normally be one container per household to empty rather than having to make several trips to collect two or three dustbins.

The Golden Age Of The Wheelie Bin! 

The golden age of the wheelie bin had truly arrived! Most urban local authorities started distributing wheelie bins en-mass, the cost of the wheelie bins and of fitting lifting equipment to vehicles was offset by the increased efficiency and time saved during the refuse collection process. Shops and business premises could be provide with larger four wheel wheelie bins that were typically stored at the rear of the premises. The customer would then be charged by either local authority or private waste disposal contractors to empty these wheelie bins which as with the two wheel variety could be loaded and emptied by suitably equipped vehicles.

Wheelie Bins - Problems Associated With Wheelie Bins 

Not Everyone Was Happy.  Although wheelie bins were generally popular with residents although could be problematic with premises such as non ground floor apartments. In the case of blocks of flats either large communal wheelie bins would be used or other centralised waste collection methods utilised. Some elderly or infirm residents would complain about the policy of placing wheelie bins at the boundary of their property claiming that because of the bins size and weight when full, they were to heavy for them to push along. 

Problems In Rural Areas 

In rural areas the costs of deploying wheelie bins was deemed prohibitive and the distance between houses negated the cost savings seen in urban areas, which deterred local authorities from deploying wheelie bins in these areas. Some residents in upmarket rural areas objected to what they saw as unsightly wheelie bins spoiling the appearance of pristine country villages and were strongly opposed to their deployment. Other residents anticipated an increase in council tax to offset the large costs associated with the deployment of wheelie bins and the conversion or replacement of vehicles in order to empty them. 

Theft, Vandalism And Other Problems With Wheelie Bins 

Unfortunately in some urban areas, wheelie bins left near to the roadside have proved irresistible to late night revelers who seem to think it is fun to participate in a spot of late night wheelie riding. Many wheelie bins are stolen and dumped by the perpetrators. There have been an increasing number of incidents where wheelie bins have been set alight by teenagers. The Metropolitan and other police forces have reported an increase in the number of incidents reported where wheelie bins have been used in domestic burglaries. The height of the wheelie bin makes it an ideal platform for burglars to use to stand on and access open windows. Some burglars also use the wheelie bin to make of with the proceed of their robberies.

Stolen Wheelie Bins 

Wheelie bins are being stolen at an alarming rate, the Daily Telegraph's website recently reported on the case of a wheelie bin stolen from Peterborough which turned up in Bulgaria. Stolen Wheelie Bin Found In Bulgaria 

Dumpster Diving & Bin Surfing 

Other reports talk of dumpster-divers stealing wheelie bins in order to search the contents for documents such as bank statements or credit card receipts in order to participate in identity theft and fraud. Unfortunately the portable nature of the wheelie bin makes it easy to steal. As most council wheelie bins all look the same, more unscrupulous residents have been known to swap their neighbours shiny clean wheelie bin with their own battered or damaged wheelie bin. The fact that many local authorities now charge to replace lost or damaged wheelie bins could be contributing to the rise of such incidents. Some local authorities no longer will provide residents with wheelie bins meaning that residents have to buy their bins privately, this could well be fueling a black market in stolen wheelie bins in some areas. 

The Impact Of European Directives 

Reducing Landfill 

The European Landfill directive was introduced to reduce the amount of waste that governments throughout the European Union place in landfill sites. The impact of this has been that local authorities have had to take a closer look at the way they process domestic waste and encourage recycling. As a result of this, the humble wheelie bin has become both a winner and a looser.

Encouraging Recycling

Some local authorities have taken the view that wheelie bins by their size and convenience, discourage people from recycling. They prefer the option of providing people with smaller containers in order to promote recycling. Other authorities have sought to comply with this directive by issuing residents with additional wheelie bins which are designated for recycling purposes. One of the easiest and greenest ways to reduce landfill is for councils to issue an additional wheelie bin to collect garden and uncooked vegetable waste. The collected green waste material can then be processed into compost rather than being dumped as landfill.

Processing of Domestic Refuse Abroad

A large amount of recyclable material that would otherwise be placed in landfill sites in collected by local authorities issuing additional recycling wheelie bins. Some of this waste material is processed in the UK but an increasing amount is being exported abroad to such far away places as China where a thriving waste reprocessing industry is developing.

Wheelie Bins & Small Business Opportunities

Wheelie Bin Washing Service Companies 

The proliferation of wheelie bins throughout the country has encouraged the development of a whole new industry, that of the wheelie bin washer. One of the downsides of wheelie bins is that people tend to empty household waste into them directly without using traditional bin bags or liners. The problem with this is that the bins become contaminated with food waste which in turn attracts flies, vermin and can lead to offensive odors and maggots developing within the bin. The problem is made worse by the fact that the size of the typical family wheelie bin makes it difficult for the resident to keep the wheelie bin clean themselves. Wheelie bin washing companies solve the problem by providing a doorstep wheelie bin cleaning service usually operated using a self contained wheelie bin washing machine located in the rear of a transit van sized vehicle. these companies typically charge around £3 per wheelie bin washed.

Is Wheelie Bin Washing Strictly Necessary?

It seems odd that in a bygone age when we relied on the good old traditional metal dustbin to take care of our domestic refuse storage that nobody ever bothered to have their dustbins cleaned.  Not only was dustbin cleaning deemed unnecessary but frequent washing with water was likely to induce rust and therefore best avoided in any case.  Perhaps this is why rubber dustbins were once a popular choice in the pre wheelie bin era.

So is it necessary to clean your wheelie bin on a regular basis?  It really depends on how you use your bin.  If you always bag up all your rubbish in black bin bags then there probably isn't going to be that much contamination.  If on the other hand you are emptying food waste and other nasties such as used nappies full of baby poop into your lovely shiny wheelie bin then getting your wheelie bin washed on a regular basis is probably a good idea.