Harry Trimble first started cataloguing UK council bins in late 2016 while he was working as a designer at Government Digital Service. Travelling around London and its outskirts for the job – testing prototypes for GOV.UK – he began to notice that, even just within the M25, the bins outside Londoners’ homes would differ from area to area. “So I just began photographing them,” he says.
“At the time, I was thinking a lot about visual consistency, infrastructure and design in the public sector,” Trimble explains, “[and] one of the reason for making govbins.uk, was I wanted to learn how to prototype with data”. The designer built the site with ‘open registers’ that name all the local councils in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He can then cross each bin off as he collects them.
Initially, Trimble says he would simply photograph the bins as and when he happened to see them, but now the project has started to inspire detours and day trips “which my friends, family and workmates patiently let me drag them on. I once got a client to pull over on the side of the road in Northampton, just so I could photograph a bin,” he adds. “Hopefully, my cataloging appears more endearing than obsessive.” Trimble currently averages around one bin a week.
Viewing the images he has so far collected together in one place, it’s apparent that there isn’t much visual uniformity to a council service that happens across the majority of the UK on a weekly (or fortnightly) basis. Council logos, recycling graphics, even the design and colour of the bins themselves varies considerably.
Green, black, brown and blue dominate with the applied graphics and typography offering a range of difference: Kensington and Chelsea’s royal blue bins feature gold-coloured text, for example, while Broxbourne in Hertfordshire opts for neat, modernist approach complete with a decent-looking badger icon.
Aside from its practical purpose, Trimble suggests, each bin can be thought of as a projection of local government intent; a way of visualising their connection with residents. “Councils don’t have to provide bins by law, just collect your rubbish, yet most still choose to,” he explains. “The reason this partly happens, I reckon, is because councils use bins to project their identity and what sort of relationship they want with people.
“Liverpool’s bin is bright purple, mixing the red and blue of the city’s two football teams,” he continues. “Some bins are low key with just simple typography and little or no contact details. Others are super grand with huge things on them like double-headed eagles. Also, it’s kind of interesting – and a bit funny – that symbols of authority and power like coats of arms, crests, logos and other heraldry have gone from being on battle shields and flags to websites and wheelie bins.”
Trimble’s bin repository currently features 80 examples and there is clearly a long way to go before he has the whole of the UK catalogued. “I’ve joked about taking a sabbatical or early retirement,” he says. “I’m only quarter the way done. Thing is I might never be done. Councils get created, redrawn, abolished and merged all the time. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing for me.
“A couple of people keep saying I should make a book,” he adds. “Maybe I will. If designed well it could be a nice little object and more than a ‘toilet book’.”