Humans have been producing rubbish since time immemorial, but organized waste separation has only existed for almost 140 years. In the Middle Ages, people weren’t picky when it came to disposing of their rubbish. What was no longer needed, at best, ended up on one’s dung heap or flew out of the window, where the next rain washed away the worst. Nevertheless, the Middle Ages were not a throwaway society. People used and repaired their goods for a long time, patched textiles and re-dyed them. Just like today, the sheer quantity became a problem. Complaints about dirt, bad smells and poor hygiene increased. It was time to act - just as it is today. The reorganization of the urban waste management culture began around the 16th century.
Pioneer of waste separation
The active separation of garbage is a French invention: the Parisian civil servant Eugène René Poubelle is considered a pioneer. In 1884 he obliged homeowners to set up three different bins to clean up the chaos on the streets: for compostable waste, rags and paper, as well as china and oyster shells (!). A little street not far from the Eiffel Tower is named after him today - and every French rubbish bin - la poubelle.
Collection - Sorting - Flake ID
Open bin, waste in the right bin, problem solved. Sounds simple. More than ever before, it is essential to establish proper disposal and a resourcesaving circular economy - from waste to recyclable material. And here, so to speak, a medieval problem meets modern materials and digitization. Sorted collection of plastics plus lightning-fast, clear identification according to colour, material and shape - that’s what I call “Flake ID”. This is how we establish material cycles in modern times.
But even today, it won’t work without the men and women who keep our communities clean. To show respect to all those who dispose of our waste - and raise awareness of recyclable materials and recycling - the American John D. Arwood launched the international day of garbage collection (“Global Garbage Man Day”) in 2011. It is celebrated on June 17th. I think it should be better known.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Otto Appel