It’s a Load of Old (British) Rubbish

Moshe Forman
Dec 27, 2018 · 5 min read
Craetive Commons

Sir Winston Churchill, the great British war leader, declared that the Brits and Americans are two people divided by a common language. Nowhere is this truer than with rubbish, where American and the Brits do speak a completely different language. Why it is in this area of human endeavour that such a great wedge has been driven between the Brits and their former colony is beyond me, but as a service to my transatlantic readers, I have posted the following glossary of terms:

rubbish = trash

bin = trashcan

binman = refuse collector

local council = municipality

aluminium = aluminum

gobsmacked = astounded

lorry = truck

In the UK and parts of the former Empire, the day after Christmas is known as Boxing day. The pundits at Wikipedia are divided as to the origin of this term. My personal theory is that it’s the day the fraught nerves of the man of the house finally snap and he boxes a random relative about the ears. However, a more widely accepted explanation is that it derives from the term Christmas Box, referring to the presents that Victorian servants received on the day after Christmas. Presumably, they would have been too busy on Christmas day itself, ensuring that the masters of the house were merry and of good cheer.

This makes sense because I remember the old British tradition of giving the Binmen their Christmas Box in the days before Christmas. This would usually have been a gift of cash. But before you get all soft and mushy at the thought of these generous householders rewarding these hard-working labourers, I should point out that the word gift might not be appropriate here; ransom might be nearer the mark. Many a hapless householder who was late with the “gift”, or was less generous than required, would discover a trail of rubbish leading up the garden path, or an upturned rubbish bin planted on their front lawn.

But then, the Britsh do have an obsession with rubbish. A while ago I was staying in a London suburb in an Airbnb residence. I took the rubbish out to sling it in the bin and was gobsmacked at the sight of a multicoloured array of bins. I made a quick call to one of my nephews who lived in the neighbourhood:

Where do I throw the rubbish?” was my desperate plea.

“That depends,” was the laconic reply. “What kind of rubbish is it?”

“It's the rubbish-bin-under-the-kitchen-sink kind.”

“Is it organic, plastic, glass or paper?

“Yes, I replied. “It’s all of those.”

“You didn't separate them!” The shock in his voice was unmistakable.

“Er…no. Should I have done?”

I was told in no uncertain terms that yes, I should have done.

“Look,” I said, looking about furtively to make sure we were not overheard, “maybe I’ll just sling it into one of the bins when no-one is looking.”

Wikimedia Commons

This being a family friendly article, I will not repeat the expletives that followed that suggestion; let’s just say that I spent the next half hour rummaging through the kitchen rubbish, depositing the appropriately sorted muck, vegetable peelings and unidentifiable gooey stuff into the appropriate receptacles.

I was called upon, once again, to recall the words of that greatest of Englishmen, Churchill

“When you are rumaging through hell, keep rumaging””

(Actually, those were not Churchill's exact words, but the spirit is the same).

Apparently, had I not offered this blood, sweat and tears, the landlord would have been slapped with a heavy fine (which he would no doubt have passed onto me with the addition of a hefty service charge)

Upon further investigation I was to discover, to my utter amazement, that in the UK, the binmen sometimes take two weeks or longer to take away the rubbish (depending on bin colour). Since discovering this amazing fact, when in the UK, I use every opportunity to engage in some rubbish one-upmanship by slipping into the conversation the fact that here in Israel, where I now live, we have our rubbish collected FOUR TIMES A WEEK!!!!

I kid you not; three times for the regular rubbish, and once for the big stuff and garden refuse. OK, we are a bit behind in environmental terms when it comes to sorting the stuff, but it gets removed, no questions asked.


I was reading in the newspaper that one of the local UK councils was employing investigators to rummage through illegally deposited rubbish looking for evidence which would identify the source of the illicit garbage, so they could impose a punitive fine on the trash transgressor.

They should employ Sherlock Holmes to investigate these heinous incidents of rubbish wrong-doing. I can see him now, perusing a mouldy cucumber, extracted from the shock!!!, horror!!! blue bin.

“It’s elementary my dear Watson. I can see by the teeth marks that whoever committed this fiendish crime has false teeth.

“You don’t mean…?”

“Yes, none other than that dastardly neighbour from hell — Professor Moriarty!”


Contrary to popular opinion, recycling rubbish is not a new thing. My first job, back in 1950s London, at the age of three, was to help the binmen carry the piles of newspapers out to the cart that was towed behind the bin lorry. We also collected the aluminium milk-bottle tops, which would be likewise carted off as a separate item for recycling. I really did want to be a binman when I grew up. Alas, my inconsiderate parents sent me to university and it was not to be. The recycling system worked very well back then, without the council employees sifting through our garbage to find any illegal bottle tops.

When I repeated this story to an environmentally aware friend of mine, he thought it absolutely just and correct that the unwary householder be fined for such crimes against the planet. So, not wanting to be held responsible for the rise in sea levels, I will hold my peace on the matter.

Moshe Forman

Written by

When I’m not a poet, novelist, or writer of short stories, I’m a writer of creative non-fiction exploring Self, Food, Society and History. www.mosheforman.com

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