Occasionally my blog’s many fits and starts lead me ‘off piste’ into non-mortuary territory. Rubbish bins are a fascinating and varied dimension of civic and public street furniture: their form, materials, size, texts and logos, as well as their frequency (or indeed absence in some cases) and locations, can reveal considerable details about the evolving urban and suburban landscapes of contemporary societies, our management and perceptions of hygiene, disposal, recycling and the environment. As such, they are an element of ‘contemporary archaeology’ in multiple senses.
I’ve addressed bins and their associated paraphernalia before. For my ‘Contemporary Past’ course, for example, I’ve discussed them with students in Chester and its environs. To say bins are not ‘Archaeodeath’-enough for this blog, however, is far from the truth, since I’m particularly interested in their deployment in heritage environments and specifically those within memorial and funerary landscapes. Also, I’ve touched on the signs and material cultures linked to churchyard and cemetery management, of which bins can be part.
Here’s a useful example from Wrexham borough: it is situated at the start of a valuable and well-used riverside leisure space at Bangor on Dee, and follows a consistent design that both makes clear who’s responsible for its management and emptying, but imposes on the landscape that civic identity.
My brief visit to Brussels 2 weeks ago gave me an ever-so-brief opportunity to experience Belgian bins in the country’s capital. On my walk to Brussels Cemetery from the outskirts I saw how local communes/districts have their identity inscribed on their paper concrete with metal-mesh interior rubbish bins, in this case the municipality of Evere with its heraldic logo.
I also noticed the large communal recycling facilities on many main streets and housing estates: by way of contrast it is worth nothing that this is still something that still isn’t a common feature in the UK beyond supermarket car parks and council-run recycling centres.
Then I was delighted by the varied designs, but (in some cases) deliberately vintage appearance of the inner city Brussels park and street rubbish bins. They were consistently painted in a dark-green colour.
I wonder what detailed insights into Belgian rubbish and recycling a more sustained investigation would reveal?