I think that I think way too much about rubbish. And by rubbish, as this is very definitely a British word (but I love the sound of it), I mean trash, garbage, litter, refuse… depending where you reside in the world.
Recently I wrote about zero waste versus no waste, and now here I am, back again, writing about more waste. I am very obviously obsessed. But this time, I am considering it from a very different angle. A historic angle.
Still work has begun again in this area. The first year here was all about clearing weeds, brambles, more weeds, branches, more weeds and rubbish. Year two we uncovered our lavoir, and found that it had been filled in by lots of leaves from overhead, creating a gorgeous rich mulch, with many, many huge worms. Duck heaven. And it also had been used as a rubbish dump of sorts.
There were old rusty nails, and various other metal bits, pieces of glass, ceramics, lots of string, and the odd plastic bits. So the rubbish ran the gambit of time. I figure at least covering 100 years. And for every 100 bits of this or that, from the tiny to the large, we found 1 eureka moment. Mostly marbles, but also the odd little bottles, still whole.
So back to that wall I was sitting on, taking a break, surveying the scene, planning ahead. When I was struck by the past. I remembered, on my travels in a number of countries, that you used to be able to tell you were approaching a town by first seeing its rubbish heap. This would usually be a hill slope, on the edge of the village, that people went to to get rid of what they didn’t wish to keep.
For me, having grown up in fairly well to do countries, where rubbish collection was simply a fact of life and don’t litter campaigns were common, it never occurred to me what places did that did not have national rubbish collection. Until I saw what they did.
In, shall we call them ‘first world countries’, collecting refuse is standard. It gets taken up regularly and put, well, somewhere else. We didn’t and don’t have to think about it. Well, maybe a little these days as we now separate this rubbish into that which can or can’t be recycled.
But in what I will call ‘second world countries’ collecting rubbish is not on the agenda. And yet, something still has to be done with it. And in these countries, where there is consumerism, just maybe not to the level of those first worldies, this means finding a place to dump it. So, the closest and furthest option, is the edge of the village. Or in the history of our place, the end of our garden.
But if we take a peak at ‘third world countries’ there is no litter. And this is because poverty means everything has its use and re-use. Nothing is thrown away as it will always have a purpose. This first came to my notice whilst travelling in Peru. Camping in the countryside, my culinary skills were watched one day by a local Quechua woman and her two daughters. I used a can of tomatoes. She asked me what I was going to do with the empty tin. Could she have it?
You see cans (or tins if in the UK) are receptacles of many uses, especially since they are metal. Water carrying, bowl to eat out of, food storage, or the metal itself could be used for repairs or making something. A can has so many uses, if you stop and think about it. And interestingly we found very few cans in our bottom garden.
What was noticeable in our garden was that the rubbish that was obviously very old was not excessive, generally metal and broken beyond repair. Dumping rubbish here I would say began around the 1900s, with mostly bent or broken nails. Obviously we were getting past the time of blacksmithing when these would have been melted down to be re-used.
We then enter a time period of ceramics around the mid century. Lots of broken bits, obviously no longer useful, but now common enough to be disposable, and whose patterns make them fairly easy to date. As we progress through the decades, so does the quantity of related rubbish. And the quantity of plastic.
I would say that dumping in our garden stopped around the 1980s, about forty years ago. Most likely because systematic removal of household waste for the village had commenced (It became a law in 1975.)
So you see, rubbish can tell us a lot about the history of a place, its economics in particular. And one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure. At least in my case, especially when I find something really neat. The rest, all those broken bits, if not re-usable, will be put in our modern day rubbish bin for collection.