This phrase is said in many households once a week, but how does that whole “pickup” process work?
I recently worked with the sanitation department and must say I was impressed. After making sure I had work boots, padding for my legs, gloves and high-vis, I met the crew, who welcomed me into their circle.
I started off on the yard waste truck. After climbing in, I realized there were two of anything you would need to drive — a steering wheel and pedals on both sides. This is so a laborer can work alone, if needed. Being able to drive the truck from either side saves time and is safer. The crew said they help each other out and step up when someone needs time off.
I was surprised by the weight of the bins. It definitely helped when the correct bin or can was clearly labeled. We clung to the side of the truck, stopped at the houses we needed to, made sure no trash was mixed in with the yard waste and continued to fill the truck. Once the load was large enough, we used the notches on the side to compact everything so we could fit more.
While going through town and even passing through my own neighborhood, I was enjoying the ride. It felt like I was seeing Norwalk from a whole new perspective. I recognized several faces and waved to anyone I saw. One crew member said he enjoys waving to people, regardless of whether he knows them. This friendly spirit prevailed among the laborers.
While on the yard waste truck, I was working with Brock McIntyre. Working for the sanitation department is more than just a job for him — it’s a dream. McIntyre said he remembers riding his tricycle down the street as he followed the garbage truck, knowing at age 4 exactly what he wanted to do for a living. What’s even cooler is Sanitation Superintendent Jeff Montgomery remembers McIntyre at that age and was happy to hire him.
As McIntyre and I continued working, it began to rain. Then it poured. I did not hold back, however, because I wanted the full experience. We were soaked but kept working and I felt more and more comfortable getting on and off the truck and filling the back.
I then switched to a recycling truck, which covered more houses. Recycling bags should be labeled with a yellow sticker, so we looked for these or tried to determine which ones were set aside to be recycled. We also had to make sure there weren’t any styrofoam or food in the cardboard boxes. With the rain, the soggy cardboard was more difficult to grab, but I got the hang of it and it was satisfying work.
Finally, I tried out working on a garbage truck. Since almost every house has garbage, we made a lot more stops. The rain caused the back to collect much water, so we had to be careful not to throw in garbage with too much force or it would cause a big splash.
I only worked with the collection process. However, the crew said their work day does not end with the completion of the routes. They do maintenance on the trucks and have other tasks to perform, along with taking the loads to the transfer station or compost facility.
Weather conditions can make the job challenging and the loads can be very heavy, but everyone I worked with made the job look easy. I cannot imagine doing this job all day in 90 degree weather or negative temperatures surrounded by snow, but these hard workers get the job done.
I really appreciate how the workers help each other.
The driver of the truck and the rider on the back had very good communication and signals to be as safe as possible. That’s a necessity, because many cars passed us, sometimes impatiently and dangerously. While doing yard waste collection, we moved the bins out of the way to make things easier for the recycling and garbage trucks. When doing recycling, we sometimes took garbage bags down the street while riding so there would be less stops for the next truck.
Montgomery had very positive things to say about his team. It was a pleasure working with all of them. Next time I throw away something, I’ll recall the journey that follows. I also will make sure to clearly label the bins and keep things neat near the road. Why not make their job a little easier?
Job: Sanitation laborer
Qualifications: Class B CDL with air-brake enforcement, experience in sanitation or construction, ability to handle intense labor
Pay: Laborers start off in class five, earning $19.85 per hour, and work their way up to class one, at $23.63 per hour.