What It's Like To Be a Trash Collector In The USA

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What It's Like To Be a Trash Collector In The USA

Posted by Allen Czermak on

It’s something we take for granted every week. We place our plastic trash bags in garbage cans, and once or twice a week we push them to the curb for pickup. Sometimes it might be a local municipality or a private service that hauls away your trash. Either way, there is a lot that goes into trash pickup and it’s none other than the garbage men who are the unspoken heroes. I prefer to call these talented professionals, sanitation engineers. Even for all the money in the world, I doubt you could keep the job for more than one day. And if you are willing to come back for day two, I don’t think your body will be able to handle the daily physical beating that their bodies absorb. In this article we will discuss the everyday challenges that garbage collectors face. The objective is for us to appreciate what they do and maybe give them a thank you once in a while.

Trying Out Being a Trash Collector For a Day

Michael Shatravka runs a media production company and is also a resident of Bayonne, New Jersey. There is a big trash problem which the city is dealing with and he was complaining about it across social media. Garbage bags torn up by raccoons, trash sprawled across sidewalks, and bins left in the street are just a handful of issues that the city is trying to manage. Michael released a video around a year ago that gave an in depth solution for Bayonne’s trash problem. The next day Joseph Zimmerman who is a sanitation engineer in the city responded on Facebook and asked Michael to come see what it’s like to be a trash collector for a day. Michael accepted the challenge and made up to meet Joseph and his crew at Truck101 at 5:30 am the following day. Since Michael produces videos, he decided to bring his wife along so he could document and share his experience.

Waking Up Before Dawn

There is getting an early start to the day and then there is getting up pre-dawn or for most of us in the middle of the night. Trash collectors must start their days very early in order to begin their run on time in order not to be picking up trash until 9 pm at night. Regardless of what time it is, they must finish their trash run or else residents will be unhappy when they wake up the next day, only to find their trash bins full sitting in the same spot they left them the day prior. Chances are that being left outside for two nights, the animals got to them and there is even a  bigger mess than before.

Michael woke up on Friday, June 14, 2019 at four in the morning. He left with his wife to go meet Joseph Zimmerman and his crew at 5:30 am. If he was not there on time the truck would leave and move on with their day. Michael was there right on time and met the team of Truck101. Michael enjoyed a quick welcome chat with Joseph and was given a mesh safety utility vest and the pickup route had begun.

Teamwork Is Essential For Local Garbage Pickup

Suburban municipalities that offer public or private trash service will tend to use  trucks with robotic arms to pick up the trash bins. This allows the operator to drive without ever leaving the truck. However, when trash collection is done in cities like Bayonne, NJ, the ease of access to the trash bin is just not there. As a matter of fact there are no big trash bins keeping the trash contained. Rather, the city's sidewalks play host to smaller trash cans that easily overflow with the remaining black trash bags gathering around it at the curb. Because of this challenge the team needs to coordinate to keep moving and making sure that all bags are picked up. Michael seemed to find it difficult to coordinate with the other team members at such a fast pace. While attempting to coordinate, Michael found himself struggling to lift let alone hurdle the garbage bags  into the back of the truck. The Truck101 team was synced and able to move along but Michael always seemed to be a step behind. At one point he mistimed his step on a curb and tripped and twisted his ankle. Joseph gave him the first aid kit as he continued on hauling the trash in the back of the truck. It seemed an impossible feat to keep up with both mentally and physically. After 90 minutes Michael was beyond exhausted while the team was not going to finish their run until 7 pm. They said goodbye and Michael told them the following, “All I have for you guys is major respect and I apologize for calling you out thinking I had a solution of how to deal with the trash issue here in Bayonne, New Jersey ''. 

Getting Dirty Is An Understatement

Even in the cleanest of neighborhoods, trash pickup can get you real dirty. Leaky garbage bags and old food can splatter smelly filth all over you. There are also things that should not be thrown out and are, like old ink toner and aerosol cans that can bust. This can be very dangerous for the garbage collector putting them at risk for injury. For every city there is a clear code of what can be disposed of and what cannot. In general, private trash service companies will tend to be more lenient since all they want to do is to get through their run. However, in places like New York City, homeowners can be handed a hefty fine if they are caught by the sanitation police disposing of items which are not allowed to be thrown out. Besides the fact that it’s the law, think about that there is a kind human being that is working long grueling hours to pick up your trash. 

Getting Stuck Behind a Garbage Truck

One of the most frustrating things is when you are driving while being in a rush and getting stuck behind a garbage truck. What is even worse is getting stuck behind a garbage truck with no foreseeable way around it. The truck can’t do anything about it if vehicles are parked on either side of the street. This happens very often on city streets and each driver has their own reaction with most reacting in a negative way. You have the driver that is literally sitting on their horn anticipating that the trash collectors move quicker. Then you have the driver which gets into a screaming match, demanding that they move over. And the last type of driver, pleads their case politely asking them if they can go around with absolutely nowhere to move. True it’s a challenge that no one wants to be a part of but we must keep in mind that sanitation engineers are trying to move along as fast as possible so they can finish their route sooner. Giving them a yelling will accomplish absolutely nothing and is right out rude and even ungrateful. Keep in mind that you want your trash picked up and so do these folks which block you happened to be driving on. People will never see that someone else might have gotten stuck on their block during garbage pick up. Trash needs to be collected even on busy city streets for them to stay clean.

Keep Your Trash Neat When Prepping For Pickup

When it’s time to put your trash out for pickup take the time to make sure your cans are arranged neatly. Doing so will not only make the job easier for the garbage man but will keep your neighbors happy. If you find that your trash is overflowing, purchase another bin to keep the trash contained and not get all over the place. In case you use large trash bins from your local municipality or private trash hauling service, feel free to ask for additional bins. There may be an additional charge but it will keep your trash organized. 

Final Words

What we should take out from the story above is the unfathomable amount of physical labor which goes into being a trash hauler. Not only does it require the individual to have lots of strength, but there is much coordination that goes on which involves teamwork. These professionals need to keep on moving without getting injured so they can finish their run. Now that you are educated on what actually goes on in a typical day of a sanitation worker, make sure to be courteous and respectful. Without them our city and suburban streets would be a mess and they could use a thank you once in a while. If you do find yourself stuck behind a garbage truck, please do not honk as there is not much for them to do. These hard workers are just trying to complete a daily routine which needs to move along at all costs. If you're still unsure, reach out to Joseph Zimmerman and his crew at Truck101 for a 90 minute trial.


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