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Throwing Trash, Making a Living

By Joe Wessels · May 21st, 2008 · Wessels

A man who lives along Boudinot Avenue in Westwood fills a 30-gallon plastic garbage can about halfway each week with raw dog turds and puts it out on the curb to be picked up by a city garbage collector.

How do I know? Because I was the unlucky one who picked it up this week.

My discovery and subsequent disgust brought big smiles to the faces of Mike Clay and Mark Davis, the two sanitation workers who pick it up every other week. I unknowingly gave them a break this time. They'll be back this week to get it without me.

Clay and Davis let me "throw trash," as they call it, with them May 15 as they did their weekly route through this middle-class West Side neighborhood. Davis, a five-year veteran, tried to warn me before I lifted up the feces-filled can, tilted it into the back of the truck's garbage compactor and give it a good shake. I didn't hear him.

Out slid what I'd guess was about 40 pounds of bow wow poop soaked with several inches of rain from the night before. The dog's owner didn't bag the crap or label it, and he or she failed to do something more useful with it like put it in a garden or compost pile. Something.


I nearly threw up.

For Davis and Clay, a 25-year trash picker-upper veteran, that's just one stop in a very dirty job. They wear orange jump suits and orange gloves and drive an orange $145,000 garbage truck (able to hold 11 tons of trash) to carry our collective garbage to Rumpke's landfill in Colerain Township, never to be thought of again.

So many things about my six-hour shift morning concerned me on a dry, relatively cool and overcast Friday. First, West Siders eat a ton of LaRosa's pizza. Second, we need to find a way to recycle pizza boxes.

I was equally amazed by the amount of perfectly recyclable items thrown into regular garbage cans. Stacks of newspapers and other miscellaneous paper and oodles of beverage cans and bottles came out of nearly every can I lifted. That might be why Cincinnati City Council's Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley proposed this week that Rumpke -- which is contracted to pick up all recycling in the city of Cincinnati -- be forced to find ways to increase the amount of stuff we recycle.

Only 10 percent of the city's recyclable waste is diverted into recycling, Qualls and Cranley say. San Francisco boasts 70 percent.

They also want the company to pay a living wage. City sanitation drivers start at $18.56 an hour in the city; their helpers on the truck start at $14.47 an hour. To get a job -- and they are hiring -- garbage collectors start working part-time as a municipal worker. (To apply, call 513-352-5480.)

The city budgeted $10.3 million to collect the trash in 2008. Last year, the city collected an average of 1,877 tons per week, or 97,615 tons for the entire year.

Back to Davis and Clay, who pick up the mattresses (we got three on our route, including one covered with bed bug excrement), couches (we had one) and boards with nails in them (too many to count) without much complaining. Sure, they wish motorists would watch for them. Many don't, prompting Davis to point out that there are laws protecting road construction crews, school buses and police officers but none for his line of work.

Several garbage collectors have been killed, including at least one around here. Davis once got stuck with a needle and had to get HIV tests for a year (they were negative).

When they don't take an item they're not supposed to take, some "customers," as they call homeowners, have called them lazy. Others blame them when their cheap bags, sometimes even filled with packing peanuts, leak out. Clay and Davis clean up the mess.

I never thought of giving the people who pick up my trash a tip or a holiday gift. But apparently some do -- the nice and grateful residents who realize how hard Clay, Davis and their colleagues work.

It's Public Works Week this week (through May 24). Money and gifts would be great, but I bet a "Thank you" would be a great place to start.

I could use a back rub.

Contact Joe Wessels: joe@joewessels.net



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