What did people do before plastic rubbish bags?

Have you ever wondered what people did before plastic rubbish bags?

I’ll let you in on a dirty secret of mine – I’m awful when it comes to remembering re-usable bags at the supermarket. So are most Kiwis. We re-use the bags for our rubbish, and figure that gives us a free pass to not bring re-usables to the supermarket.

But plastic bags are a problem. And I wondered what people did before they arrived on the scene. So I did the logical thing. I asked my Mum πŸ™‚

The world before Da Bag

Here are Mum’s answers. Although we can’t burn rubbish any more, some of her tips are great ones, and ideal for getting our rubbish down, even in this day and age when some of the food tastes like plastic!

  • The inside bin (kitchen bin) was lined in newspaper. When full, its contents were thrown into the metal rubbish bin. If she was short on newspaper, she bypassed this step completely, but it meant the bin needed washing more regularly.
  • Peelings and food scraps were put on the compost pile, or given to the chickens. Did you know that if you can’t keep chickens in your suburb or city, keeping quails might be an option? You can even keep them in a small cage on an apartment balcony!
  • Dust and cobwebs etc. from cleaning was wrapped in newspaper (again) and put in the metal rubbish bin. Did you know that dust can be composted or just buried in the garden?
  • Soft drink and milk came in glass bottles (not that Mum ever bought soft drink as it was too expensive!) and were collected at the doorstep and re-used. Most milk cartons and bottles can be recycled. Just rinse them out first!
  • As much as possible was put in the incinerator in the back yard. This included plastic wrappings (which she remembers starting to come in) and cardboard too big to go in the rubbish bin outside. These days, we know better – cardboard and junk mail can give off very toxic chemicals when burned, and the particulates will fall very close to your own chimney i.e. around your house. So unless you’re into poisoning yourself and your family, this is NOT a good idea.

These days, most municipalities have great recycling programmes. While they’re only a small part of the solution, they are a part.

So – ready to quit single use bags?

I’ve been reading up on this issue, and I’m ready to turn over a new leaf and quit my plastic bags for good. I’m going to try my mother’s old technique of just putting rubbish straight in the bin, no bag required. I’ll let you know how it goes.

You might not be as awful as I am when it comes to plastic bags. But if you are, maybe you’d like to think about having a plastic bag free rubbish bin too?

Whatever you decide, wish me luck! πŸ™‚


  1. What a nice post. I don’t remember wrapping trash in newspaper but I do remember using paper grocery bags which we now only use for our recycling. You’ve given me something to really think about and how to make a change. Thanks. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jo – I’ll be going through my home and digging out my re-usable bags this weekend, and starting then.

      I’m going to first use up my stash of plastic bags for rubbish, then start just putting my rubbish in the bin without it. As it is, our kitchen bin is a bucket-style (it’s inside the cupboard, you open the cupboard, and pop out the bucket when it’s ready for emptying), and as most of our rubbish in it is mixed packaging that can’t be recycled, it really should get too messy without a bin liner.

      As we ten to give kitchen scraps straight to the chickens, I don’t think our kitchen bin will get very messy. The only thing to do is find out! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Birds are brilliant at recycling. Here in Dunedin, you have to pay for special council rubbish bags, and I know of people who keep chickens not for the the eggs, but for the fact that the chickens eat so much food rubbish that they keep the cost of bin bags down and pay for themselves that way! And apparently quails are just as good, but smaller πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t know what you *can* do, to be honest. I’m amazed there’s anywhere still offering glass bottles – nowhere here does, apart from a few tiny places that sell milk at the farm gate, and are very, very expensive.

      None of the plant-based milks offer glass either, AFAIK, so I think you may just have to switch to plastic or paper cartons , and do your best to recycle them. But that really sucks 😦

      Liked by 1 person

    2. don’t you think milk tastes better from a bottle? I do, I remember drinking milk from glass bottles that were delivered by the Milk Man (Milko) as a kid and that’s the last time I can remember liking milk lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really do! We keep getting told by The Experts that milk tastes the same in plastic, but I don’t think so. Drinking anything from plastic is HORRIBLE. That’s why I have a metal drink bottle for the gym – it just tastes so much better!

        But what would we know? We only drink the stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really interesting post and coincidentally timed! I’ve been watching a brilliant UK series called If Walls Could Talk and each week a historian runs through the history of a different room. It’s really fascinating and the last episode was the kitchen. Scullery maids were fired for stealing if they didn’t separate the bins properly. What I can remember is that all vegetable food scraps went to make more soup, dust was sifted through and the chunks taken out to be burned again and the dust put in the dust bin for the dust man to collect, meat bones were cooked and used again for stocks and soups, THEN given to the dogs and THEN sold to the bone man. All bottles and jars were saved for reuse, paper was used for kindling…I can’t remember much else but it was clear that not a thing was wasted, and a lot was on-sold such as bones and dust.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness!

      I knew that people used to use everything, but I just didn’t know how much so. We think of our parents’ generation as being thrifty (my mother was born in the 1940s, right into rationing in Britain after WW2), but it sounds like even by that time things had become easier. We really don’t know how good we have things. Or how much we waste.

      I remember references to the “rag and bone man” in Jane Austen. Interestingly, when we kill our sheep at slaughter time, the leftovers (heads, legs below the knee etc.) that are not used for food go off to the rendering plant, where they are turned into blood and bone fertilizer. So even now we’re not throwing away as much as you think. But households can be very wasteful.

      We give all our bones from roasts etc. to the chickens, as we don’t have a dog, and they peck them absolutely clean – there’s not a speck of meat left on them once they’re done with them! But I’d really like to see us use less plastic. It seems unavoidable. Even Beth Terry, over at My Plastic Free Life has not been able to get plastic out of her life completely, and she’s a LOT more dedicated than anyone else I know of!

      Thanks for that information – you just taught me so much! I’ll have to see if the documentary you mention is available online, as it sounds so interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s SO interesting! I meant to mention that I also keep 3-4 reusable bags in my handbag – a friend gave them to me and they’re basically bags that scrunch up into small balls that you stuff into a connected bag. I have a banana, a fish, a strawberry and a pig lol. They end up being tiny and taking up very little room and they ALWAYS come in handy. Especially when I’ve forgetten the big shopping bags πŸ™‚


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