What is curbside collection?

May 27, 2016

Curbside collection is a service provided to households for the disposal of refuse. In this service, trucks collect waste and deliver it to either a landfill or a recycling plant where it is processed for reuse. How this service is executed is left to the municipalities either alone or in partnership with other communities, which means that policies for what is considered recyclable along with when refuse is collected will vary. In some cases, the service is overseen by a department within the municipality or through a private firm under contract.

Before the nineteenth century, urban waste was disposed of through dumping it in unusable areas or in places of moving water, such as the River Thames in London, England. The closest thing to collecting at this time were scavengers (also called Toshers or Mud-larks) who mainly looked through waste for coins or salvageable material that they could sell back for a small price. During the medieval period, an early form of collection began with what were called “cart men,” who traveled collecting refuse from homes.

Overcrowding and the growth of industrialization in the nineteenth century led to more waste being left in cities, which caused outbreaks of diseases such as cholera that cost human lives. Cart men helped in the move for better sanitation in the towns by collecting waste from homes. This also led to an early form of modern recycling with the collection of rags and bones for the production of paper and glue respectively and next coal ash for soil conditioner and bricks. In 1890, the British Paper Company was established to make paper and cardboard from recycled materials that were provided from cart men and organizations such as the Salvation Army.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the cart man began to be phased out for a more standardized system of collection in communities. Through the twentieth century, curbside collection started to become more like the programs seen today with the introduction of motorized vehicles in 1918 and the arrival of hydraulic lifts in 1937. Though waste collection has modernized to suit the needs of society, so has waste. The arrival of the “Throwaway Society” after World War II and the use of more hazardous materials have meant that waste collection has had to find ways to meet these new demands. One major aid has been the use of recycling, which has allowed for less refuse ending up in landfills.


“For Education.” Began with the Bin. http://beginwiththebin.org/resources/for-education. Accessed May 3, 2016.

“History of Waste.” Upstream. http://upstreampolicy.org/issues/corporate-accountability-for-waste/history-of-waste/. Accessed May 3, 2016.