Remember Burning Barrels, Dumps, and Junk Yards? When did they go by the wayside and Trash Pick-Up begin?

by julie swanson

burning barrel

I’m writing a scene involving a family’s burning barrel and taking out the garbage–it’s set in a rural area in 1973. But I can’t remember what we did with trash back then. We had a big rusty burning barrel behind our garage, with holes poked in it, and my dad burned whatever got put in it fairly regularly, but I didn’t pay much attention to how often he burned in it or what exactly went into it. I knew by the smell of it and the color of the smoke that came out, that it was more than just paper, leaves, brush, scrap wood, and stuff that was ‘good’ or safe to burn/breathe. Sometimes there was this really bad chemical stink like there must’ve plastic or rubber in there.

But certainly we didn’t throw glass and metal in there or it would’ve piled up, and I wonder what we did with that. I know there were more dumps than there are now, and junk yards, and people would go to them to dispose of appliances, mattresses, etc. It was fun to pick around in the glistening piles of glass and metal. These places were not always authorized trash disposal places like landfills, but sometimes just a piece of property where tradition had it that no one would mind if you added your stuff to all the old rubbish already there. Sometimes it was a spot just off the side of the roads, in the woods, or a gravel pit where people pitched their stuff over the edge of a steep hill. But what about trash pick-ups at the top of the drive? People who lived in cities or suburbs probably had curb pickups and they put their cans out , but any of you who grew up in the country, do you remember how your family collected and disposed of trash, when you started getting regular trash pick up? I do recall putting things in round silver galvanized aluminum cans with lids (that you still sometimes see), rather than the large heavy-duty plastic things on wheels that we use now. So we had outdoor trash or garbage cans, but…

I’ve asked my mom about this, and she has a hard time remembering when we began with a regular trash service as well. I know I’m writing fiction and could make it be however I want, and I know there are places where people still use burning barrels and dump things into ravines (right here in Virginia), but I don’t want to be totally off the mark.

So we’re talking 1972-1973–If you lived in the country then and can remember, what did you or your parents do with non-burnable trash?