Friday, Aug. 22, 2008 | midnight
At my suburban outpost, there are but two groups of people who visit on a regular basis, although, to be honest, they rarely make it past the edge of my driveway.
There are the newspaper carriers, who will forever hold a special place in my heart.
And then there are the unheralded guys who pick up my trash every Tuesday and Friday, even when those days are Christmas or New Year’s Day. They also hold a special place in my heart — especially when it’s 105 degrees outside.
The exclusive waste hauler for cities in these parts, Republic Services, makes the news from time to time, usually for regulatory issues. The rest of the time, we pretty much all take their work for granted.
Still, after a dozen years of watching Republic trucks go up one side of the street and down the other, you start to notice things, and when given the opportunity, I had questions for Bob Coyle, the head garbage man.
The area president of Republic Services since 2004, Coyle oversees an operation with more than 600 different daily trash collection routes. He also is charged with raising awareness of and participation in the area’s recycling program, which only about 15 to 20 percent of local households currently participate in. He can’t explain why participation is so low.
The good news is that people who do recycle usually follow the rules. Usually.
“There are a couple of items that we see people trying to recycle that we do not accept in our curbside recycling program, such as aluminum foil and Styrofoam packing materials,” he said.
Plastic bottles have been in the news recently, and in the dog days of summer, these fill a lot of local recycling crates. Most folks, however, don’t know that the caps of plastic bottles aren’t recyclable here. Coyle referred me to a Web site explaining that only plastic bottles marked with a No. 1 or 2 on the bottom are in fact recyclable, and things like margarine or yogurt containers never are, even if they have those numbers on them. Plastic bags are a no-no, as well.
While they are of course organic, yard materials like grass and palm fronds aren’t recyclable, either. There’s little demand for bulk compost locally because there is no agricultural market, and besides, palm fronds can’t be recycled because they’re too fibrous for composting equipment, which there isn’t much of here.
Yard maintenance takes some work, and so does its disposal. Most people don’t seem to know that they should tie palm fronds or tree branches into bundles no more than six inches around and not more than six feet in length. Professional yard-care firms don’t always play the game.
“The biggest problem we have is when a resident has lots of palm trees on their lot and has a landscaping company come in and trim all of the trees,” Coyle said. “The landscape company often leaves them for us instead of taking them to a transfer station.”
Such amounts can sometimes be surprisingly massive. Coyle has stories.
Low participation rates for recycling also have an odd impact on service. Though teams are directed to drive all of the streets on their routes, pickup teams occasionally miss a house, in part because they may be few and far between, and crates are small enough to be easily hidden by a bush or a car.
“Once in a while the drivers will just look down the street and not see any recycling crates and not turn down the street,” he said.
I suppose that means it’s important to put your recyclables in a conspicuous place.
It’s difficult to truly imagine how much waste Republic handles in serving a half million households locally. Average collections this year are more than 16,000 tons of industrial waste, almost 14,000 tons of residential waste, almost 12,000 tons of commercial waste and 686 tons of recycling waste. Weekly.
Challenges surface along the way. Some people want empty trash cans to be left on the street; others prefer the sidewalk. People, of course, express themselves on such matters, but with a half million local households to service, it’s understandably tough to keep track.
As for my residence, let it be said that in a dozen years of service, Republic has never missed a pickup. From what I’ve learned of delivery in my own industry over the years, that’s a pretty good track record.
Bruce Spotleson is general manager of the Home News and group publisher of Greenspun Media Group. He can be reached at 990-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.