When I first moved to London six months ago, I couldn’t find anywhere to throw out my garbage.
I grew up and have lived most of my life in New York City, where there’s a trash can on every corner (or at least it lovingly seems that way in hindsight).
London, however, doesn’t have that luxury, something I discovered my first few days in the UK and am reminded of every time I’m outside and need to throw something away. One can usually find a trash can every few blocks and rarely, if ever, in a London Underground station.
My editor thought this might be a way for the city to reduce waste — as New York City successfully did a few years ago.
London seems to have a different reasoning, though. The scarcity of places to throw out garbage comes from lingering fears of terrorist attacks. London was plagued by deadly bombings for decades, with trash cans being a favourite drop point.
“In London, bins were yanked from stations and many other locations in the central city years ago because the Irish Republican Army used them as bomb drop locations,” Sarah Goodyear writes in CityLab. “Metal cans were especially attractive to terrorists because they could create deadly shrapnel when the bombs went off.”
Goodyear cites a New York Times story from February 1991, which describes an IRA bombing: “One bomb, hidden in a trash can, sprayed glass and shrapnel across the concourse of Victoria Station at 7:40 a.m. when it was crowded with commuters on their way into the city from London’s southern suburbs.”
After that bombing, according to the Times article, London police said they would remove all trash cans from railway stations.
That did not end bomb attacks using trash cans, though. A chronology of terrorist activity from 1992-1995 compiled by counter-terrorism experts Edward Mickolus and Susan Simmons notes that in October 1992, the IRA “set off 16 small bombs throughout London, mostly in trash cans and telephone booths.”
The majority of the people injured, according to the authors, were hit by flying glass.
Garbage containers have returned to the London Underground, though there are fewer of them than may be expected. The ones that are there now are transparent plastic bags suspended from hoops — which make it easier to spot a bomb and less dangerous if one manages to go off.
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