Attitudes to ‘waste’ reveal a lot about the cultures responsible for its generation (or not). Rubbish may be a focal point for communities, as in Prehistory when middens proclaimed wealth and fertility, or in modern Chinese cities where rubbish middens proclaim the opposite: poverty and ill-health.

Where connections are made between illness and waste, humans have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that ‘filth’ is jettisoned out of eyesight.

Many cultures have seen great feats of civil engineering to deal with waste, such as the sewer systems that were monuments to Roman and Victorian civilisation. However, as is the case with most short-term solutions, the problem was just passed down the chain (or drain) creating much larger long-term problems of water pollution and soil fertility.

Sanitation systems, for all the benefits that they have brought for human health, have also created a legacy of cultural neuroticism about ‘filth’, with communities discarding ever greater quantities of ‘rubbish’ (or perfectly good food) that ought to be used to bring others out of starvation.

Returning to the start of this chapter, we examined Hawkins and Muecke’s (2003, xiii-xiv) statement that waste is a reflection of the self. If this is the case, and I believe it is, we must ask ourselves a question: if we see rubbish everywhere, what does that say about our society? Are we just a little bit rubbish? Do we need to clean up our act by getting dirty?

Perhaps it is time for us to learn from the many lessons of the past, rethink our attitudes to ‘rubbish’ and give ancient technologies a new twist. Perhaps the most achievable would be to better collect and utilize manure – in the end this might be key to saving the collective arses of those that produce it.