POULSBO — It’s your friendly municipal garbage collector’s week in the spotlight.
Global Garbage Man Day was June 17, the first day in a week-long celebration of the folks who collect your trash.
We’re not making this up; go to GarbageManDay.com and see for yourself. Meanwhile, we paid a visit to the individuals who get up early each collection day and render your household refuse out of sight, out of mind. (The Global Garbage Man Day slogan is “Keeping You and the Environment Safe,” an acknowledgment of the “enormous environmental impacts of recycling programs or how their local sanitation workers are positively impacting the world’s environment.”)
It’s 6:45 a.m. June 20, and three trash men are already warming up their rigs’ engines in the Poulsbo Public Works maintenance yard at 780 NE Iverson St., climbing up on top of their trucks to check the mechanicals.
Jake Todd, a newbie with only three years’ experience, is standing in today for Vidal Hernandez, who has been doing the job since 1995.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Public Works Superintendent Mike Lund said when John Lord tried to start one of the trucks.
“Nope,” said Lord, a 13-year veteran. A man of few words, he began to tinker; the truck starts.
“Good,” Lund said.
By 7 a.m., they’re rolling out of the Public Works yard and won’t be back until their shift ends at 3:30 p.m.
These garbage men have a special place in Lund’s heart. He started his career at Poulsbo Public Works 23 years ago, “riding the back of a trash truck.”
And then there’s the fact that his guys make the U.S Postal Service look like softies.
“We go out when the post office won’t go out,” said Matthew Duerr, who’s been at it for 11 years and drives the residential routes. When it snows, “we chain up the truck and go out,” he said. “And when we can’t get around in that, we go back and get the pickup and finish the job.”
And unlike the postal service, these trash men work on holidays that fall on weekdays.
“Garbage never sleeps,” Duerr said.
Duerr services 3,400 residential customers and empties an average of 750 cans a day, five days a week. His customers love him so much one Poulsbo couple brought him a bouquet of fresh flowers for Global Garbage Man’s Day.
The commercial routes are harder to measure, Lund said. Some businesses need to have their Dumpsters emptied daily, others only once every couple of weeks.
‘Bye, bye garbage guy?’
This year, Poulsbo almost lost its trash men; the city almost dumped them in favor of going with a big, commercial trash company.
Six months ago, the Poulsbo City Council sent out a request for proposals to see what the big firms would charge to haul Poulsbo’s trash. After crunching the numbers, they decided to keep it in house, Lund said.
“There are set costs we all have,” he said. “The cost of fuel, tipping fees, container prices … But [the difference is], we don’t have to make millions of dollars [to pay shareholders]. We just have to be sustainable.”
Plus, when the garbage man is your neighbor in a small town, they try harder to respond to your needs.
“It’s more than just a job. We personalize it,” Lund said.
Keep on trucking
To keep the city’s trash cans emptied, the City of Poulsbo owns three trash trucks. The trucks are specialized. Some are designed to lift and empty the heavy commercial Dumpsters; the mechanical arms on the residential rig are designed to lift and empty residential trash cans.
The newest trash truck, purchased in 2014, is a commercial rig. Another commercial rig was bought in 2009. Duerr’s residential garbage truck dates back to 1999 and is, well, pretty trashed. Plans call for the eventual purchase of a new truck with a side loader that will work better on narrow residential streets.
Hurried motorists, critters, and trash cans filled with who knows what.
This crew had had its unnerving moments.
“There was the time we lifted the Dumpster and four rats fell on [one of the guys],” said Lord, who collects commercial customers’ refuse.
Duerr said, “That’s not as bad as the time the guy was sleeping in the Dumpster and you almost dumped him.”
Then he gets serious.
“Drivers whipping around you when you’re collecting along Highway 305,” Duerr said. “That scares me.”
So, show a little kindness this week. Slow down and wave — and smile.
— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.