Eugène Poubelle: The Inventor of the Trash Can

How Poubelle transformed waste management forever

Brevet d’invention pour un nouveau système de nettoiement des rues (1BA3387) (1829-10-23) by Maurice André ChaumetteFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Early versions

People who passed through towns and villages buying worn-out objects and selling them on to businesses that would repossess them, were among the first to rise up against Poubelle's decree. After all, it meant a loss to their livelihood, despite having contributed to urban cleanliness for so long.

Brevet d’invention n°21415 pour des perfectionnements apportés dans les cabinets d'aisances (1854-11-18) by Walter Mac FarlaneFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Cleanliness, trash, and public space

Inventors competed to come up with new functional spaces for the management of household waste. For example, in 1854, the Englishman Walter MacFarlane created plans for “restrooms, washing areas, waste recesses, and in general both public and private amenities.”

Brevet d’invention n°159788 pour une boîte ménagère pliante à ordures (1884-01-17) by Alfred Le Masson and Eugène DerveloyFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

New trash cans

1883 saw the establishment of the "Poubelle law" in Paris. The law demanded the use of closed containers for the daily disposal of waste. After that, many patents were filed, proposing systems that were simple, fast, and practical, both for users and for the people who came to collect them.

Brevet d’invention n°231146 pour un appareil pour la réception et le transport des ordures (1893-06-27) by Gustav Adolf SchloskyFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

The ancestor of the waste bag

In 1893, Gustav Adolf Scholsky invented a device for containing and transporting waste, a kind of garbage bag ahead of its time.

The purpose of the invention is to transport waste by means of bags, which, during the time that they are full, are held in special cages or frames, and are then loaded onto the transportation carriages after having been removed from the frame.

Brevet d’invention n°189672 pour un système de colonne à ordures ménagères (1888-03-29) by Louis LarcherFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Garbage can trucks

While the Poubelle law stipulated the collection of waste at set times, some people realized that this time constraint did not suit everyone. Garbage chutes designed to allow people to get rid of their waste at any time of day began to appear in modern buildings.

Brevet d’invention n°263900 pour des perfectionnements apportés aux charrettes à immondices (1897-09-02) by John HealyFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Garbage can trucks

The Poubelle law also created the collection of waste by means of a horse-drawn carriage. Here, too, specific vehicles of various shapes and sizes were developed.

Brevet d’invention n°268674 pour une voiture hygiénique destinée à enlèvement des détritus (1897-12-07) by société Wessel et CompagnieFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Hygienic cars

The first motor vehicles began to appear, too. In 1897, a company called Wessel et Compagnie proposed a “sanitary automotive vehicle designed to remove household waste and garbage.”

Brevet d’invention n°467894 pour un système de camion pour l’enlèvement des ordures (1914-01-31) by Samuel NiestléFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Garbage trucks

The garbage truck as we know it appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

Brevet d’invention n°310933 pour un seau collecteur pour déchets de cuisine (1901-05-18) by WitzelFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)


With the arrival of the 20th century, garbage collection became vital in France, both in the cities and in the countryside.

While the climate challenges of the 21st century have brought new customs in terms of collection, sorting, and processing, innovations occurred throughout the 20th century, making the trash can a trivial but essential object of daily life.

Brevet d’invention n°1168836 pour une poubelle pour meubles de cuisines (1957-03-05) by Simon MarcotFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Modern household waste treatment

From 1950 to 1970, lasting changes occurred to daily life and home interiors. In the patent descriptions and the designs and models held by INPI, the applicants for these patents integrated the garbage can into the family setting.

Dessin & Modèle n°180455 pour un conteneur pouvant être utilisé comme poubelle (1979-07-20) by Emile AllaireFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)

Design trash cans

After over two centuries of innovation, the trash can has changed considerably over the course of time.

Improvements have made it more practical, more sturdy, or less visible, but it still attracts the attention of designers.

Dessin & Modèle n°20194781 pour une poubelle (2019-11-04) by Hugo Meslard-HayotFrench Patent and Trademark Office (INPI)


Trash cans will keep evolving to make recycling easier. This is now everyone's responsibility.

Credits: Story

Amandine Gabriac and Steeve Gallizia, service des archives de l'INPI

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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