I’ve occasionally ventured into the archaeology of rubbish on this blog, both in contending with contemporary and past discard, and ritual deposition, but also into the rich and varied material cultures of rubbish disposal receptacles.
Bins are an integral part of ‘street furniture’ but they are more than that. Bins can have insignia and therefore bear a corporate or civic identity. Their shape, colour and size can give them a distinctive identity and role too, as can whether they are ‘specialist’ bins for dog faeces, flowers, organic material, glass, plastic, paper and so on. Bins can have long life-histories and different treatments. Their location can be revealing too, as well as those places, such as the National Trust properties, that eschew bins completely with the expectation rubbish is taken home.
I’ve been reflecting on bins a lot because my University took the opportunity of the COVID-19 pandemic to removal all rubbish bins from office spaces, so I now have to make extra trips along the corridor to deposit rubbish, which somehow helps prevent the spread of the virus. I’m now bin-less but ‘COVID compliant’! It’s truly amazing.
Bins have featured on this blog when I’ve discussed bus station bins, business bins and city centre bins;
Suburban dog bins and their wonderful scatter-zone of plastic bags containing dog waste that are somehow considered by local people as ‘in the bin’ if dumped in a 5m vicinity;
and of course… heritage bins!
Let’s not forget I’ve also contended with the transformation of bins during the pandemic lockdown: they are (i) locked or fixed shut to prevent their use, (ii) labelled with official signs denoting their unavailability, (iii) simply overflowing because they are not being emptied and yet people persist in using them and (iv) people excessively fly-tipping because they regard it as legitimate because recycling centres were closed.
Yet I’ve also addressed the positioning and character of bins in memorial and funerary environments, including crematoria in England and in Wales, where they are essential dimensions of the environment to give opportunities for mourners and other visitors to dispose of wrappers and old flowers when commemorating the dead.
I’ve also discussed Dutch crematoria and cemetery bins.
And let’s not forget bins within the grounds of urban war memorials where bins are part of the design and aesthetic.
Set against this background, I’d like to suggest that bins offer a rich, varied and fascinating set of insights into contemporary funerary landscape management and the commemorative practices in themselves and their requirements for disposing of broken, damaged, temporary material cultures. They demand our attention alongside churchyard, cemetery and crematoria paths, buildings and memorials.
Here are two photographs from last year from Wrexham Cemetery – a Victorian burial ground extended and still in use in the present day. They add further points of reflection. Because we can see the evolution of cemetery bins over time as new styles and forms augment and replace older ones.
The first image shows a well-established open bin. Also note the prominent bilingual sign requesting visitors use the bins! Yet despite this, the bin cannot fully cope with the scale and character of the disposal practices demanded of it! Here with an entire floral display dumped on and partly in the bin.
Second, the very recent addition of new bins in the old part of the cemetery have lids to prevent wind spreading rubbish and wildlife getting into the bins. Aren’t these the smartest, closed funerary bins you have ever seen? My MA Archaeology of Death and Memory students, including Oliver here, for whom this was his first-ever visit to a British cemetery (hailing from China), was fascinate by the cemetery material culture. I still have yet to supervisor a study of funerary bins, but I do aspire to write about them some day!