A day on a garbage truck
Compass reporter shadows compactor operator from pick-up to dump
On a Wednesday evening, you and your family sit down to a big steak dinner with all the fixings.
When it’s over, there is a large bone and some grizzle — and the broccoli your child tried to hide under his napkin — left on everyone’s plate. Everything gets tossed directly into the trashcan.
The scraps join the plastic wrapping and packages that have been piling up inside the green bag throughout the day.
You tie the bag over and bring it to the empty wooden garbage box near the curb outside. For the next week, you collect five more bags of trash.
The following Wednesday morning, the garbage is picked up.
Sending an invitation
Like many people, it never really crossed my mind about who picks up the garbage and what happens once the bags are collected. Sure I saw the trucks driving down the street and the workers tossing bags into the back of the compactor. But was that all there was to it?
After hearing from multiple people about the dangers and difficulties of working in the garbage industry, I began to wonder exactly how a day in the life of a garbage collector looks.
Last Wednesday, I was invited to tag along with an Eastern Waste Management garbage compactor in Placentia.
Prior to arriving, there was a real fear of getting my hands dirty — metaphorically and literally. At five-foot-six and 140 pounds, I was like a bit smaller than some of the workers.
Still, I got in my car in the below freezing temperatures and hit the Cape Shore highway. I was ready to get on that garbage truck.
That morning I met with field operations officer Kevin Power, a local with three years experience on the job and many years in municipal politics.
I climbed into my snow pants, hauled on my boots and zipped up my winter coat. It was cold.
Kevin handed me a bright yellow reflective safety vest that is required for the job. He drove me to Fort Louis Road, known by some locals as suicide hill because of it’s near vertical drop.
The road was covered in a blanket of ice, so Kevin’s truck couldn’t drive down. I got out and climbed the steep slope. I stopped before the drop.
Garbage collectors have to walk this hill in all conditions to collect the trash from the homes on the street.
This was the first obstacle I witnessed, and I had only been in Placentia for less than 30 minutes.
Kevin drove to the next destination to meet up with Dave Moores, who would show me the ropes over the next few hours.
“Here, you can sit in the driver’s seat,” Dave said as he held open the door.
The compactor has two steering wheels, one on the left and one on the right.
The one on the right is controlled while standing and the door can remain open for easier access to the compactor’s opening. While operating the vehicle from the right, the driver must not exceed 32 kilometres an hour.
On the left is a hydraulic seat, which is beneficial for hitting potholes and imperfections in the road.
Dave is from Spaniard’s Bay, but previously worked on the garbage truck in Clarke’s Beach. He just started working for Eastern Waste Management and enjoys it so far.
Before I had the opportunity to get out of the truck, fellow garbage collector Jennifer Hickey contacted Dave to meet her with a load of trash. She was driving a pickup truck.
The two worked in unison to offload the truck into the compactor. Jennifer, who is the only female in the road crew, tossed the bags effortlessly.
Kevin, joined by Mike Lundrigan, also offloaded his truck. Mike and Dave tossed the bags, and splat; one appeared to explode on the ground.
“This happens sometimes,” Dave said as Mike grabbed a shovel.
Inside the bag, now on the ground, were wood chips, coffee cups and pieces of a seagull. “We see all kinds of things,” Dave explained. We headed back out on the road, and Dave began to throw bags from the bins, sometimes up to 10 feet away.
He let me try. I struggled to lift them, let alone throw them.
The workers wear special gloves that protect them from spills, leaks and sharp objects. I stopped when I noticed there was glass coming from one of the bags.
It was an easy day for Dave, collecting one tonne of garbage. The truck can take 10 tonnes. His regular route in Dunville would likely have seen up to six tonnes. Dave manually loads all the bags himself.
“You need a strong back,” Dave said, later joking the job can transform you into Popeye the Sailor Man.
Robin Hood Bay
All garbage collectors with Eastern Waste Management bring their compactors to the Robin Hood Bay landfill site in St. John’s. That’s over an hour’s run from Placentia.
I hopped in a small seat that pulls down on the right side, while Dave got in the left and hit the Trans Canada Highway.
During the drive, I was told stories about some other obstacles faced by drivers, including one person who nailed their garbage box shut.
“He didn’t want anybody else using it while he was gone away,” Dave laughed.
There was a lineup to dump the trash, but watching the thousands of seagulls flying overhead was enough to pass the time.
The landfill is exactly how you would think — piles of garbage, a terrible stench of rot and filth and loaders pushing and covering trash with soil.
The outside perimeter of the dump was covered in loose garbage tosssed by strong winds the day before. Three individuals were walking along the fence picking up the trash. “They have a job for life,” Dave remarked. After we emptied the vehicle, we hit the road to Whitbourne, where I left my car.
It was an easier day for Dave, with much less trash and far fewer houses, but for me, it was exhausting and a little nauseating.
The long drive to the dump, the hundreds of stops, picking up and throwing the garbage and almost slipping on suicide hill were some struggles I experienced during the ride along. It gave me a new appreciation for the work done by the men and women who work on garbage and recycling trucks, compactors and at the dump.
Next time you see your local garbage collector, who lifts tonnes of trash each day and works in every weather condition imaginable, give them a wave or say hello. They may appreciate it more than you think.
Dave Moores, pictured in the rearview mirror, has been driving a compactor truck for several years, and he was happy to show his temporary recruit, reporter Melissa Jenkins, the ropes.
Compass reporter Melissa Jenkins ditches her business casual attire for snow pants and boots for a ride along in a garbage compactor in Placentia Wednesday, Feb. 4.
Fort Louis Road in Placentia is the steepest hill Eastern Waste Management services. It was covered in ice on Wednesday, Feb. 4, but the garbage collectors still had to service it.
Mike Lundrigan grabbed a shovel and got to work when a bag busted open while loading it into the compactor.