Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Truck's Eye View of Trash

I had a short spell of under-employment between a construction job and the new one. Always thought "little money better than no money", so I hired out with Labor Ready for day work until I got a "regular" job. Among other adventures, I went out three times riding the back of a Trashaway/Republic residential trash collection truck. A genuine eye-opener.

Before I say anything else, kudos to the guys who do this every day. It is hard, physical labor and these guys are far from over-paid. I did routes from Lakeview to Southwest Blvd, just in time for first lawn-mowing. A few customers will leave bottles of chilled water or sport drinks, you know who you are and the gesture is greatly appreciated. Also, those of you who bag the trash so we don't have to pick up the can, both the American plastics industry and we on the back of the truck salute you.

Note for the record, based on my "back-of-the-truck" survey, Lakeview survives on a diet of Dominos pizza and Keystone Light. Southwest, I saw more Pizza Hut boxes, more wine bottles than beer cans. (Sorry Papa Johns, I call'em like I see'em).

Now I have been putting household trash in a friend's commercial dumpster for years, we had a trash-strewing dog in the neighborhood and I got tired of picking up my trash from the length of the alley. Might be a waste of the $8.90 a month on my utility bill, but it's neater. It's also why I never gave this much thought until I actually rode the route.

Now to the fun part; City ordinance v complaints. Just for fun and boredom avoidance, I got a copy of the contract between City and Republic Waste Services. Then I went to City Ordinance, where Sec 11.400 describes "Duties of Customers" Speaking of residences, you ARE a "customer". Businesses may opt for another qualified carrier, but for residences, you are a Republic customer. Your bill, like mine is on your water bill.

One customer duty is to provide an appropriate container with a "close fitting" lid (to keep out varmints and feral cats). A common complaint is "I put the bags in the can, use the lid, after pickup my can is tossed back, the lid is never put back".

That was my lesson one. First stop, I picked up the cans, dumped'em and I'm putting the cans back upright with the lids back on. My full-time counterpart hollers at me, "Forget that, keep it moving, that's not our job!". Another stop, there's loose milk jugs and cereal boxes around, but not in the cans. Again I'm told, "Not our job! Keep it moving".

Now I will say, anything in a bag in the vicinity of the can, we picked up. My gig here was just in time for first lawn mowing of the season. We had a couple of stops that had 20 or more bags of lawn clippings. Wet, heavy and they don't compress worth a hoot, but we picked them all up. From magazines to dead pets, if it's in a bag, it gets picked up. There is a limit on weight (60 lbs) and size, but that was rarely enforced. For instance, if you set out a 55 gallon steel drum with no handles and fill it with rocks, nope, they ain't gonna throw out their back even trying, nor should they.

I mentioned "duties of customers", how about duties of collectors? In ordinance that's Sec. 11.403. The parts of that that matter are; twice a week collection, some holidays excepted; and "systematic, efficient manner to keep the entire city in a clean and sanitary condition". In the contract we have II(2.1.1) "Contractor agrees to maintain a high standard of service for the protection of the health and welfare of the public and in performance of this Agreement, will use the number of trucks and personnel as required by the amount of solid waste it is required to collect".

I'm bothering with this because we fall short of the "keep the entire city in a clean and sanitary condition" standard expressed in Sec 11.403. Part of this is Republic keeping its employees at a dead run, but a BIG part of it is sloppy residents. If you sort of loosely toss the remnants of Sunday's BBQ over the fence in the general direction of the can rack, don't be surprised if the underpaid guy on the back of the truck leaves it. Other side of that, customers who do their part deserve to see the trash can put back where it was, with a lid and it would have killed ya' to pick up the cereal box that missed the can?

Something I found in Sec. 11.406; the person who ought to be fielding these calls would be the City Sanitation Inspector. That person shall "regularly inspect the streets and alleys" and has authority to issue citations up to $2,000. It would make sense for this Sanitation Inspector to be the same person who will be looking for alley parking violations (as recently directed by Council). Under 11.406 the City Manager shall appoint this Sanitation Inspector, but after bouncing from Legal to Manager's office to Health and finally to Code Enforcement this morning, this seems to have fallen through the cracks. Best I have found, we have not had such an Inspector since Mike Loving departed city employment.

From the back of the truck I can say we have some fairly rancid alleys. Trashaway could spend a little more time on its runs, but honestly, most of the blame goes to sloppy residents. I doubt the situation or the smell will improve much until City has someone patrolling and issuing warnings backed up by threat of a pricey ticket. As summer brings hotter days some of these pits are going to start seriously reeking if they aren't cleaned up.

Of course ordinance doesn't say WHO city manager shall appoint. Until my arm heals enough to shift gears, I'm at loose ends, but I can still drive an automatic. Gas money and cheap pay, I'll troll for parking and sanitation, pass out tickets by the ream! Yeah well, we really do need somebody doing this and right now, it ain't getting done.

Meantime, if it crosses your mind to leave the trash guys 3 soda pops or brownies, I can promise it will be appreciated. These folks work hard, rain, shine, hot or cold, kinda like the mailman but a lot less pay and the ones I met try hard to do a good job.


  1. I especially like the "Sales Tax" on the trash service. I always want to scream "I've already paid sales tax on all of that!"

    Other than they won't pick up all my trash, I think they do a fairly good job here in San Angelo. I put two bottles of used cooking oil out about three months ago. Can't trash it; can't pour it out; can't recycle it here in San Angelo.

    Anyway, I don't put my lids out because they won't put them back. In these winds, it could take days to find them again.

    I do appreciate what they do.

  2. For me the guys on the truck do a great job.

    I put my trash in bags in a trash can. I only leave the lids on when I put the trash in the alley if it is raining or going to rain. I have never lost a lid.

    In our area it is people who put the trash in the alley only in bags which cause problems. There are always cats, an escaped dog having some fun or skunk around to find these plastic bags full of snacks and curiosities.

    If I have lots of lawn clippings I hold some back till the next trash day.

    My opinion is that it is the citizen’s responsibility to keep the city free of loose trash, not the company’s.

  3. Anon, great points. I remember a few neighborhoods, no alleys they put the bags, cans whatever at curbside. Most seemed to know the schedule, a couple actually walked out to meet us when they heard the truck.

    You're absolutely right about bags being critter bait. Heck, that's why I don't use the service I pay for, if I put out trash the night before, and I'm on the early end of my route, it's likely to be scattered the length of my alley.

    Some of the sites, I was looking at months worth of rancid loose trash that isn't going to smell any better in heat of summer. The service can only do so much, it is up to personal responsibility not to "foul our own nest" and the city ought to exercise it's code compliance authority to encourage that.