Home      Poubelle
It’s hard these days to imagine life without recycling, or tri sélectif (which apparently we should now be calling tri écologique). As for life without any kind of dustbin at all – unthinkable!

In fact the domestic dustbin has only been in existence for a century and a bit; and its inventor, Eugène Poubelle, was not only a Frenchman but a son of Normandy, born at Caen in 1831.

Eugène Poubelle studied law at university and went on to become a very highly-regarded figure in public life. In 1884, as préfet de la Seine in charge of Paris, he decreed that all Parisian landlords must provide receptacles for their tenants’ rubbish. What’s more, he specified that there must be three separate containers: one for biodegradables, one for paper and rags, and one for glass, pottery and oyster shells. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Despite some initial resistance, the scheme caught on and the word ‘poubelle’ officially entered the French language in 1890, when it was included in the supplement of the ‘Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIX siècle’.

On a different but related topic: If France got the rubbish sorted, then it was an Englishman who designed that other important waste disposal system, the flush toilet. Interestingly, whilst late 16th century England saw little point in Sir John Harington’s invention – Elizabeth I apparently wouldn’t use one because she didn’t like the noise it made – in France, Harington’s flushing toilet design, dubbed ‘Angrez’, was adopted with great enthusiasm. Infer from that what you will.