Dustbins are named after French recycling innovator

Did you know?

1 July 2019
By Connexion journalist

The word dustbin – poubelle – comes from the man who invented them in France, Eugène Poubelle.

He was the Préfet of the Seine from 1883 to 1896 and responsible for much of the day-to-day running of Paris.

Collecting and getting rid of refuse was a problem and often people simply left it on the streets.  

On November 24 1883, he decreed that owners of buildings had to provide not just one, but three wooden containers, lined with metal and with a lid.

One was for compostable material, one for papers and cloth, and one for crockery, glass and oyster shells.

Not only did he come up with the idea of a dustbin, but also recycling.

However, like most innovative ideas, it was not welcomed by Parisians and there was a huge campaign in the press to discredit  Poubelle’s scheme.

Firstly, owners did not want to pay for the containers; secondly, the concierges did not want the extra job of taking them onto the street and thirdly, the rag and bone men saw it as a threat to their job.

Rumours were spread that Mr Poubelle was working in collaboration with the container manufacturers and likely to make money out of their sales.

However, one newspaper, Le Figaro is proud that it published an article on the day after the decree was put into practise, supporting the invention and calling the containers, for the first time, les boîtes Poubelle.

“I am sure,” the journalist wrote on January 16, 1884, “that Mr Poubelle was guided by a pure sentiment of duty.

New to Paris, and unfamiliar with the ways of life of our capital, I am sure he was shocked, one evening when he left the theatre to have his olfactory senses offended by the odours coming from rubbish thrown onto the street.”

And, he went on to say, “I believe we will have no reason to laugh at the Poubelle containers.”

On March 7, 1884 Eugène Poubelle issued a second decree ordering the first ever municipal rubbish collections in the city, which were carried out daily by horse and cart.

He also authorised rag and bone men to continue their trade. He had won with his dustbin idea, but accepted defeat on selective sorting and replaced the obligatory three containers by one bin

for everything. That idea had to wait until the 1990s to be re-introduced in France. 

Eugène Poubelle also implemented the first direct drainage system after an outbreak of cholera. In 1894, he ordered that all buildings were to be connected direct to the sewers at the expense of the building’s owner.

The word poubelle entered the Larousse dictionary in 1890. Its modern definition is “Recipient for household waste.”

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