Take time to thank the heroes in the garbage collection crews
The caption under a photograph of a child that went viral on social media last year said “He had been waiting all week to show them his toy truck but in the presence of his heroes, he was overcome.” Was the child in the photo in the presence of an NFL quarterback? A major league ball player? Taylor Swift?
No. He has standing with the two guys who work on the back of his city’s garbage truck. As the young child stands in the photo holding his toy garbage truck in front of a real, obviously well used, city garbage truck, he is flanked on either side by two hardworking community employees with big smiles on their faces.
The people who work in your city’s sanitation operation are often overlooked. If you are like me, then you put your garbage out on the curb before you go to bed and by the time you get home from work the next day the garbage is gone and all that is left to do is for you to roll the garbage can back to you home where it can collect another weeks’ worth of refuse.
However, the jobs that those people do every day are hard and sometimes dangerous. Workers come to work in every type of weather imaginable, and only in the worst ice and snowstorms do we cancel or delay getting your garbage.
Workers stand on a small platform mounted to the back of the truck as the truck weaves in and out of traffic, and when the truck stops they leap off and dart along the street, rolling your sometimes very heavy garbage can to the truck where a machine that could easily crush a wayward hand or limb, compacts the garbage. The driver of the truck not only has to safely navigate a heavy truck through traffic and down neighborhood streets, but he must also keep an eye out on the workers who work on the back of the truck and ensure that they are able to do their part of the job safely.
With very few exceptions, it is a weekly dance that goes off like clockwork. This week, we will alter the dance for the first time in decades. For nearly every single customer, the day of the week that we collect your garbage or curbside debris has been changed. The purpose behind this change is to improve the level of service we provide by reducing costs associated with providing sanitation services and making more time available each week for staff to focus on other tasks.
Under the old system sanitation routes ran every day, but most routes didn’t take a full day to complete. The crews would return to the Public Works Facility on Gary Street with an hour or two each day that could be used for other tasks, but many tasks that take a longer amount of time just couldn’t be done.
By changing the schedule to pick up garbage four days a week, a full day at the end of the week is free for the three-man garbage crews and the four-man grapple truck crews to focus on other jobs and tasks to help other departments. In essence, we are able to add manhours each week to support other operations without hiring a single new employee. The more efficient use of our employee’s time should result in more work being completed in our community.
The second reason for the change is to reduce the cost of providing the service. How does picking your garbage up on a different day save us money? First, by changing our schedule from five days to four days, we can now have a dedicated day each week for servicing the equipment we use to pick up garbage. That means no after-hours overtime costs associated with keeping the trucks running.
We don’t have a big fleet of garbage trucks, so when a truck is broken the garbage doesn’t get collected. Better maintenance should reduce costs associated with taking care of the truck and extend their useful life so that we don’t have to buy a new garbage truck as often.
The driver of the garbage truck will also use an on board computer to track other pickups such as appliances, limbs, and large debris. A special truck will be dispatched just to the houses that have large pickups, resulting in fewer man hours being spent on large debris pickups and reducing the cost of providing the service.
So over the next few weeks, as we all get used to rolling that cart to the curb on a different day, give a friendly waive to the guys working on our garbage and sanitation trucks – they are working hard every day to make your city cleaner and greener and I hope that you, just like the little boy in the photo, are in awe of these everyday heroes that make our city a great place to live. I know I am.
(Frank Stovall is city manager of Clinton.)