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Rag and Bone Men

21.07.2021 Blog
Rag and Bone Men

A conversation about ‘why people recycle now is very different to why people used to recycle’ prompted some research into the rag and bone men.

A rag and bone man would collect unwanted household items, things like rags, bones, metals, etc, and sell them to merchants. They would traditionally walk around and collect the materials in a bag, with some using carts and even horses to pull the bigger carts.

Rag and bone men were generally men that lived in extreme poverty and survived on the profits they made from collecting each day. Basically, relying on others waste to survive. They often started work before dawn and were known for creating a mess when looking for materials, but they were actually very helpful for the environment as they were recycling, just for a different reason as to why we do it today.

Their numbers died down because of local trades becoming more common and things like dust bins being introduced, taking away from the rag and bone men. There are very few around today, and they operate differently to how they used to. They were the equivalent to a walking charity shop and scrappers yard today.

So what’s the point of this blog? People today recycle because the environment needs it to survive and because of the unsustainable way we’ve been living for years, has caused so much damage. It has become a trend, which encourages more people to join in with recycling and doing more for the environment, but nearly 200 years ago, they were doing the same thing to earn a profit to survive. They weren’t interested in how they were helping the environment or how they were recycling, they were interested in trading their newly found materials in so they could eat.

We and rag and bone men both recycle to survive, but we have different definitions of the ‘survive’ concept.

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