A day on a garbage truck

Compass re­porter shad­ows com­pactor op­er­a­tor from pick-up to dump

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - Melissa Jenk­ins BYMELISSA JENK­INS

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.

Wel­come aboard

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.

The jour­ney

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.

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Compass

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.

Photo by Dave Moores/Spe­cial to The Compass

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.

Pho­tos by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Compass

Mike Lun­dri­gan grabbed a shovel and got to work when a bag busted open while load­ing it into the com­pactor.

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