Dispatches from England: Trash Collection Or How The British and Americans Deal with Rubbish Differently

Often when I think about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the UK (especially when I’m coming up with topics for this column!), I reflect in a “high brow” way. How do people act, speak, treat each other? Music, television, culinary, and artistic differences?

But the reality is that the differences in lifestyle sometimes come down to the most basic things. Would you like to know the first thing I asked our neighbors after meeting them and exchanging pleasantries? “How does the trash collection work?” Yes. As basic as that. We had a nice laugh about how little I knew about living here (and that I didn’t even call it by its proper name: rubbish bin).

So how does the trash collection work? I’ll outline the similarities and differences below. (I should note that trash collection works differently around the U.S., and I’m sure it differs widely around the UK, too. I’m comparing my personal American experience with my personal British experience.)



-Recycling and general trash alternate collection every other week. So one week the recycling is picked up, the next week it is regular trash. The schedule is printed in my village’s monthly newsletter and available online. A small bin for food scraps is collected weekly as well.

-Size. Our bin for general trash is half the size of the bin we had in the U.S. (which was picked up weekly). So we have about 1/4 the size to work with, since it’s only collected every other week. At first we were worried we wouldn’t be able to fit everything, but we recycle so much that it hasn’t been much of a problem.

-Prevalence of recycling. I’m embarrassed to say that my town in the U.S. didn’t offer recycling services. Instead, I had to drive my recycling to a collection site. Very inconvenient. Here, my recycling is picked up every other week, and I can combine everything into one big bin. No need to sort. Very easy.


-A large trash truck (that looks just like the one in the U.S. that collected my trash) comes every Thursday morning to get either my trash or my recycling. It’s usually a team or 2 or 3 men, one driving, and the others collecting the bins and dumping them in the back of the truck.

-My trash in the U.S. was collected by my town’s public works department. Similarly, my trash here is collected by my local council.

-Heavy or large item disposal is available. My town in the U.S. had what we call a “dump,” where for a small fee you could get rid of larger items that didn’t fit or weren’t appropriate for regular trash collection. Similarly, the nearby town here offers a Saturday morning collection, where we bring any large items to be placed in big collection bins. This was especially nice for after the holidays, when we had some large boxes to dispose of.

And yes, my husband and I still argue about who should take out the garbage, regardless of which country we live in.



Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatar says

    Of the items I’ve read I seem to like the British way of doing things.

    May I suggest that the own with the most muscle take out the rubbish?

  2. avatar says

    Since I moved to the US 20 years ago, every time I visit home I notice how much better the recycling set up is there! where I live in Oklahoma recycling is still in its early stages! a few towns for a fee will pick up at the curb. Where I live I have to box it up and take it myself.

  3. avatarPeterC says

    In our corner of the UK we have those small bins and collections every two weeks. At the end of week one the heaviest of us climbs on top of the rubbish pile in the bin and jumps up and down to compress it. A strange sight to behold, but one that we hope is not unique!

  4. avatar says

    Trash collection has gotten better around us in Indiana as well. We now have recycling and regular trash pickup (but it happens on the same day). We don’t have to sort it either – all the recycling goes into one bin, all the recycling in the other.

  5. avatarTim says

    Much better than here in Colombia, S.A. where, although admittedly the rubbish collection are three times a week, people just throw it out on the curb in plastic bags which are often ravaged by dogs before being collected leading to rubbish strewn all over the street. There is also a recycling service, however it is private and what is not wanted by those collecting is also just left dumped in the street.

    I can’t understand why developing countries have such a problem copying the methods used by developed countries. Good rubbish/recycling collection systems are hardly rocket science.

  6. avatarTeresa says

    We don’t use the small blue bin for food scraps, we have a wormery, which produces compost, liquid and solid. Our local council provides such wormeries at a reduced rate. Also we have a special collection for large items, we just have to let the council know and leave them on the pavement the night before. If however, such items can be reused, e.g wardrobes, then there is another system whereby such items at repaired (and training provided for local youths) and the object then goes to people who have just left prison or children’s home.
    Teresa hackney East London.

    • avatarDiane Clement says

      This sounds great, especially the wormery. San Francisco collects kitchen scraps separately for compost, too. I live 230 miles south of SF and our trash and mixed recyclables are collected weekly with a once a year collection for large items like appliances, beds and furniture. I want that wormery!!

  7. avatar says

    It definitely depends on your council, so not really any different from the US in that respect. My council doesn’t collect compost and only this year switched to an easier recycling system. We put everything recyclable into one bin except glass which goes into a separate bin. I really wish we had some kind of free collection service for large items, my council charges £15 to pick up large items and you have to wait in for them to come! A friend of mine in Brooklyn was commenting last week that they just got compost bins, so I guess there are some American boroughs that are ahead of some British ones.

  8. avatarRandy says

    Here in Orlando, we have Monday recycling and regular rubbish pickup, Wednesday is “yard waste” leaves, limbs, anything organic, then Thursday is another regualr rubbish pickup. Every other Thurs is a “heavy item” day where they collect all manner of things that are too heavy for the usual pickup.

  9. avatar says

    Way ahead of the UK here in New Jersey!! We have had recycling pickup since the early 80s when no one in the UK did!! Since I have dear friends I stay with in England, I am quite up-to-date with their practicesl And their garbage wheely bin is the same size as the standard in the USA! Theirs is picked up weekly, mine twice a week (although this does vary by town). We separate paper from bottles and tin and so do they. I think comparisons are hard to make on this subject as there is obviously a lot of variation both within the US and the UK,

  10. avatar says

    I live on the East Coast and my Council supplies us with 3 WHEELIE bins. Black for general rubbish. blue for recycling and green for food and garden waste.Black emptied one week and the blue and green the following week [2 separate trucks. Glass has to be taken to a bottle bank where there is alao usually one for shoes and another for clothes

  11. avatarpm says

    Here in Seattle they are very big on recycling. We get a separate recycling bin that is as large as the bin for trash. We also get a yard waste bin, same size as the others, for lawn cuttings, branches, pulled weeds, or any other plant materials. Trash pick up is every week. Recycling and yard waste alternate every other week. So one week is trash and recycling pick up, following week is trash and yard waste pick up. It’s run by the city though there is a charge for it and it ain’t cheap. Where I grew up, in a small town in New England, there was no community trash pick up, you had to haul it yourself to the town dump, unless you wanted to pay a private service to come and pick it up.

    Recycling here and in places like Portland Oregon has gotten so out of control this clip from Portlandia is not far off

  12. avatarmela says

    In Oregon any community larger than 4000 has to provide curbside pickup. In most communities, recycling is picked up the same day as rubbish, but by a different vehicle. In addition to the rubbish bin, we have 2 containers for regular recycling (glass, batteries and a few other things go in one, everything else in the other), and another for yard debris — Portland has a kitchen scraps containers for the city’s composting program but not all other cities do this. There’s also an aggressive e-cycling program for electronics; usually you have to it drop off. Most communities have at least an annual leave it at the curb (kerb) day for electronics and larger items. Oregon met its goal of 50% recovery through recycling back in 2010. Most of us hope to improve upon that percentage.

  13. avatarJohn Evans says

    It’s the EU who set the agenda for member states to recycle rubbish. There’s a landfill tax which has (quite rightly) pretty much forced the UK government to take recycling seriously. But all local councils do it differently. Like Anne above, my borough in North London supplies three wheely bins – a big blue one for recycling paper, glass, plastic and metal, a big green one for garden waste and kitchen waste, and a smaller black one for the rest. I think the black one is small (like the bin Nicole’s council provide) to encourage you to recycle as much as possible, and it seems to work. I’ve also got two plastic compost bins in the garden that I got cheaply from the council and I fill those up during the summer months. I’ve just put the compost from last year onto my flower beds.

    And of course the EU directive on end-of-life for electrical and other household appliances means you can always dispose of your old kettles, mobiles phones, PCs, batteries and fluorescent light bulbs in an environmentally friendly way.

    Of course In Germany they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years already.

    Oh, and In our house it always seems to be me who has to drag the wheely bins to the front of the house on the night before collection day!

  14. avatarRobin in DeSoto says

    I like it best when you talk about the nuances of life in Britain, this is a perfect example! Your column is often my favorite, you do a great job filling in the details of my daydreams of living in an English village.

  15. avatar says

    In Kent (south east England) we have a tip or the dump where you can recycle loads of stuff, apart from what is collected at the roadside..

    1. Garden waste
    2. Non recyclable
    3. Metal
    4. Car batteries
    5. Fridges and freezers
    6. Waste engine oil
    7. Small batteries
    8. Tv’s, microwaves, videos, ovens
    9. Clothing
    10. Plaster board and Bricks

Leave a Reply