Random Firings of Neurons

The rest of your life is going to be spent getting back up after life has knocked you down again. You might as well just get used to it.

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Location: Round Rock, Texas, United States

Saturday, December 17, 2005

How to fool your garbage man

Okay, I promised this a couple of weeks ago, but, various work situations kind of prevented it. When a person has two jobs, the opportunities for work-related complications doesn't double, it seems to quadruple. But, anyway, better late than never, right?

Right about the week before Thanksgiving, and running through the middle of January, a garbage man's job gets really tough. That's because people are suddenly remembering to get their house ready for friends and family before Thanksgiving, and cleaning up after the friends and family through the middle of January. The reason it doesn't end right after Christmas is because of our more mobile and divorce-on-demand society. Christmas time actually lasts until early January now, for a large percentage of the population. But, anyway, that's another topic altogether. I'm just here to tell you how to make your garbage man's life a little easier after all the Holy Day festivities.

Now, I'm going to preface this little screed with a quick caveat. Believe it or not, the rest of the nation doesn't have their garbage picked up the same way you do. So, this isn't a complete and comprehensive guide, but, more of a things to ponder guide. In the year or so I've been slingin' trash, I have seen about 15 different ways that communities have their trash picked up, and have actually seen two neighbors, 100 feet apart, have different rules on what was and was not acceptable for their trash.

The very first thing you must do to trick your garbage man into picking up your garbage is to CALL THE GOVERNING BODY! If you live in a village, call the village hall. If you live in a city, call the city hall. If you live in the county's jurisdiction, call the county. If you live in a deed-restricted sub-division, call the management company. Why do you do this? Easy. To find out what the rules are. Just because you used to live in an area with unlimited trash pickup and large item pick up, doesn't mean you do now. So, call and find out what the rules are. And then, FOLLOW THEM! You aren't an exception to the rules. Sorry. Just about every one of your neighbors thinks they are an exception to the rule also. If everyone thinks they are an exception to the rule, then, the rule isn't a rule. So, "just this once" isn't an acceptable rationale. If we make an exception for you, we have to make an exception for everyone.

The second thing that you should take into consideration is that picking up garbage is a combination of four factors: time, size, weight, and space. If your garbage man is to have any hope of getting to see HIS family that week, he needs to do things quickly. If he is to have any hope of doing things quickly, he's going to have to be able to pick things up easily. In order for him to pick it up easily, it's going to have to be a size that is easily controllable, by one, maybe two, people. Once it is in the truck, it is going to take up space. But, that's not something you have any control over. The first three, though, YOU have more control over than he does.

Believe it or not, you don't actually piss off your garbage men if you put something large out. Picking up large things is part of our job, whether we like it or not. Mattresses, desks, cabinets, shelves, doors....none of those are actually all that hard to put in the truck, IF the customer doesn't make it harder than it needs to be. Trust me, more often than not, if you try to "help" the garbage men by doing something to your large items, you make it harder to pick up, not easier. For instance, breaking up your desk into smaller pieces, to make it easier to pick up and/or move is a good thing. Breaking it up into 60 pieces, each no larger than 1 foot by 1 foot, on the other hand, is NOT a good thing. (I've seen that done MANY times, by the way.) I know you think you are helping him by making the pieces lighter, but, what you've really done is take something that would have taken 10 seconds to throw into the truck in two or three pieces, and made him take 2 or 3 minutes to pick up your shredded desk, itty-bitty piece by itty-bitty piece. It didn't help at all. It made us stand out there and clean up your yard. We pick up trash. "Yard clean-up" isn't in our job description. So, when some well-intentioned idiot does that, they get to clean up their yard, and we pick it up the next week.

So, how do you figure out if you are helping your garbage man, or hindering him with the large item? Easy. Look at it, and ask yourself "How long would this take one person to drag 10 feet, and lift 3 feet in the air?". Because that's what we are going to do with it. If it takes you 20 trips to drag it 10 feet, then, you are needlessly making your garbage man's job take longer. If it is too heavy and/or too big to drag 10 feet, then, cut it into halves, or thirds. Whatever it would take to make it able to be dragged 10 feet and lifted 3 feet in the air quickly, and relatively easily. (Most garbage men are stronger than average people. We aren't Superman, though.) If you do that, we'll pick up your large item, and not even have a hint of a nasty thought towards you. Seriously.

Now, I should also mention that many jurisdictions will not allow you to put out large items. (If you had called your governing body already, you would know if they do.) If the governing body is does not allow large items, don't shred the item to avoid paying for the removal cost. Just pay the darn removal cost, or take it to the landfill yourself. Because, believe it or not, you are STILL paying for the removal, you just don't get a direct bill for it. You pay it in your taxes, or water bill, or with garbage stickers. The cost of idiots putting out things they aren't supposed to put out is covered in that cost. NO ONE gets their trash picked up for free. NO ONE. Someone is paying for it, and your garbage man is probably the one who can least afford it. But, many people try to make their garbage man pay for it, instead of being a decent human being, and paying for it themselves. Don't be one of them. To give you an idea of how little your garbage man can afford to pick it up, the industry standard is to pay the garbage man $.15 to $.25 per HOUSE. So, you are asking your garbage man to pick up your large item, PLUS your normal trash, for less than the cost of a daily paper. (I get paid MUCH less than that to pick up trash). If your area doesn't have large item pick up, pay for it to be removed, or take it yourself. If you can't afford that, you can't afford the replacement item for your large item.

Another thing that will make his job easier is something many of us learned in 1st Grade....neatness counts. Put your trash in ONE location, and try (as best as possible) to put your trash out in a relatively neat pile. Don't put half your trash on one side of your driveway, and half on the other side. (We get paid to make ONE stop at each house. Our company is being paid for us to make ONE stop at each house. You are only paying the city for ONE stop at your house. Notice a pattern?) If it's a really large pile, don't make the pile extend 20 feet into your yard. Make it extend 20 feet along the curb. It's easier for us to throw the trash into the truck from the curb than it is from your front door.

Don't put loose trash on the pile. If you decide to throw away your soda bottle from breakfast, don't put it on top of your can, or near a bag. Put it IN the can, or IN a bag. ON the can, or ON the bag means it WILL fall off at some point during the day, and then, it becomes loose trash. Loose trash falls under "yard clean up", not "garbage pick up".

DO NOT pile bags on top of your cans. I don't give a rat's behind if your rules only allow X number of cans. That X number means trash IN the cans, not ON the cans. "In" and "on" are spelled differently, quite simply because they mean different things. If you can't understand the difference, contemplate going to a cemetary, and think about whether you want to see the caskets IN the ground, or ON the ground. In addition, piling your trash on top of the cans increases the likelihood that your garbage will injure us. It's really hard to pick up something with your legs when it is 3 or 4 feet off the ground. IN the can. Not ON the can.

Garbage bags are a wonderful invention. Use them. I don't care if you have a can or not. USE GARBAGE BAGS! If you pile all your loose trash into the can, when we turn the can upside down, all your papers, plastic bags, baby diapers, half-eaten food, and styrofoam packing peanuts will, more than likely, end up on the road, or down the road. (An enterprising young identity theif would be well advised to drive behind garbage trucks, and clean up all the loose papers that blow around the neighborhood after they dump the cans, because I see a lot of credit card applications blowing down the street after I dump a can full of loose papers. In a 10 mile an hour wind, that credit card application might land 40 feet from the truck in the time it takes for me to even put the can down. I'm not chasing after it.) We'll pick up what we can, but, we don't chase trash down the street, and we don't pick up rotting food. If you have EVER had a wind over 2 miles per hour at your house, use a garbage bag, even in a garbage can.

Cardboard boxes are the second worst garbage containment device you have ever contemplated. They rarely have handles, and, when they do, the handles are usually broken. In addition, cardboard goes from relatively strong, to almost useless, simply with the application of water. If it has EVER rained where you live, don't put trash in a cardboard box. If has NOT ever rained where you live, don't put trash in a cardboard box, because you probably water your lawn. Water from sprinklers soaks a cardboard box just as well as water from the sky.

Paper bags are THE worst garbage containment device ever made. They go from "not strong enough" to "COMPLETELY useless" with the application of water. See above for the rules on putting trash out in paper bags.

Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, compact your trash in your can or trashbag, IN ANY WAY! When you do that, you increase the weight of the can, or stretch the bag. If you increase the weight of the can, you raise the likelihood that we won't pick it up. (If the thought "Boy, I'm glad I don't have to pick this can up" enters your mind, trust me, it will enter ours, as well. WE don't have to look at the can for the next week, though. You do.) Trashbags, on the other hand, aren't nearly as strong as you think they are. They are designed to hold about 30 pounds of trash. If you stretch the bag, you drop that ability by A LOT! I've seen a bag rip open with only 10 lbs of trash in it, because the customer stretched the bag so badly. Also, if you have to drag the bag to the curb, you will, more than likely, have quite a bit of loose trash in the road, or on your lawn, after the trash is picked up. THICK garbage bags are about .7 mils in thickness. Dragging the bag along cement, or gravel, or blacktop, will shred the bottom of the bag. When we have to drag the bag to the truck (because you made the bag too heavy to lift), we'll complete the job YOU started, and the bottom will rip open, and trash will go flying everywhere. That now becomes "yard clean up", not "trash pick up". We'll pick up what we can, but, we aren't going to kill ourselves to do it.

Ashes from your grill, leaves, weeds, sawdust, grass, used cat litter...all of these things need to be put in garbage bags BEFORE they go in your garbage can. Our job is dirty enough without being showered by your fine particles that you thought would be just fine, loose, in the bottom of your can. They aren't. Your can is going to be turned upside down at some point, and then, we get to stand in a cloud of that crap for the next couple of minutes. Trust me on this: cat litter takes a LOOOOOOONGGGGG time to wash off of arms. It is a water absorbent clay. Trying to wash it off just makes it do its job: absorb water. Put that crap in a garbage bag. Or, wear it yourself for a day, and see how you like it.

Dirt is NOT trash. Sorry. Don't put dirt in your garbage. For one thing, it's really heavy. For another thing, it isn't trash. It's dirt. Scatter it across your lawn. It won't hurt the lawn at all. If you dig up your grass, you'll notice a black substance under your grass. That's "dirt". Putting it in your trash means it's just going to the landfill. Especially in states like Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona (which all have a dearth of usuable dirt), you are actually hurting your ecology by putting dirt in the trash. In a landfill, that dirt won't be usuable for a MINIMUM of 20 years. In your lawn, it's usable immediately. Dirt= not trash.

Take a look at your garbage cans. If, at any time in their life, they had handles, wheels, or a lid, and now, do not, replace or repair them. The handles are put there so we can pick up your cans. Rope isn't an acceptable subsitute. Rope cuts into our hands, even with gloves. The wheels are there to make it easier for BOTH of us to move the can, BUT, the can is also designed so the wheels help keep the can upright. If the wheels aren't there, the can doesn't remain upright...which means your loose trash spills all over your lawn or road. Leaning the can against something doesn't help. We don't inspect every can we come to. We won't see your engineering marvel when we come to the can. EVERY trash can made comes with a lid. There is a reason. Water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon. A lid keeps the water out. Remember, rain is water. Just 1 inch of rain in the morning will put 3 to 5 gallons of water in your can. That's 24 to 40 pounds of water in your can, that didn't need to be there. If you put 30 pounds of trash in your can, that makes your can weigh 70 pounds....which is a weight that might not get picked up.

If you can look at garbage in your can, at eye level, you have something that is too long in your can. When we turn the can upside down, after lifting it 3 feet in the air, we now have to pull the can up 3 feet, PLUS the height of the can, PLUS the height of anything you so brilliantly stuffed in the can. If you put a 6 foot long piece of lumber in your can (happens a lot), we have to pull the can 10 t0 11 feet into the air to get it out of the truck. There aren't a lot of people that tall in the world. And most of them don't pick up trash. They play in the NBA. Cut it into two pieces.

Your mailman does NOT pick up your trash. Putting your trash behind the mailbox doesn't make it easier for him to pick up your trash. It makes it harder for US to pick up your trash. It isn't easier for us to drag your trash around your mailbox, and then, to the truck. In fact, putting your trash anywhere NEAR your mailbox makes it more difficult for the both of us, because your mailman might get there before we do, and many mailmen won't deliver the mail if there is something in the way of the mailbox. (Some mailmen won't deliver the mail if they have to extend their arm more than 4 inches out of the vehicle...unfortunately for us, the union and the law are on their side. We don't like them.) If the mailman gets there after us, there is a possibility that he won't deliver the mail, because we may have accidentally put your cans back in front of the mailbox, or, in a way that makes it difficult for the mailman to approach the mailbox. We do our best not to, but, new garbagemen might not think about that, or, we might just lose track because of the volume of trash we pick up. So, if you can, put your trash on the other side of your driveway from your mailbox.

While your car is there temporarily, it isn't there temporarily when we get there. It is there. So, don't put your trash behind your car. We'll pick it up, but, if you've thrown your McDonald's bag on top of your trash, it will be there when you get home, or move your car. We aren't making a special trip AROUND your car just to clean up your yard for you. "Garbage pick up", not "yard clean up". In addition, to help out the commercial garbage men out there, NEVER, EVER, EVER park in front of a dumpster. Those "No Parking" signs are there for a reason, and, yes, they DO apply to you. The average commercial garbage man has to return to a stop, because of a parked car, about 10 times a day. That's 10 trips, out of his way, that he is NOT being paid for, just because you were too lazy to find a proper parking spot. The odds are, you WILL block the can, and it will NOT get picked up. Don't park there. THAT MEANS YOU! You are taking money out of someone's pocket because of your inconsiderate nature and laziness.

Now, for those of you who have automated trucks, where the garbage man just pulls a lever, and your can gets picked up, follow the rules on putting the garbage out. In Austin, where the city has those type of trucks, the garbage men will NOT pick up a can where the lid is not COMPLETELY closed. It's not because they are being picky. It's because they had to draw the line somewhere. If there is enough trash in the can that the lid can't be closed, there is a HIGH likelyhood that garbage will spill out when they dump the cans...which defeats the whole purpose of having automated can pick up. He'll have to get out of the truck, reload your can, and dump it again. He's only being paid to dump the can ONCE. The city is only charging you to dump the can ONCE. So, there's a reason they charge you extra to pick up cans where the lid isn't closed....because it costs them a LOT extra to pick it up.

Anyway, those guidelines, combined with the phone call you made (...you remember what phone call...right?!), should get you to be able to trick your garbage man into picking up your trash, no matter how how much you put out.

Now, after all that, I'm going to address something that I'm haven't been real comfortable addressing, because it seems so...self-serving. Tips and treats.

Many sins by customers have been absolved by the simple expedient of doing something nice for the garbage men. Sodas, cookies, candy, water...believe it or not, those all go a long way towards making your garbage man's day better. I have a customer who brings us out sodas about every other week, and that means we take the time to take her cans up to her garage for her. (she's elderly, and she has a steep driveway. In addition, she can't put her cans any closer than 15 feet from the curb, because of the driveway.) That's it. For the cost of two (generic) sodas, a couple of times a month, she doesn't have to pull her cans back to her house after we dump them. She also doesn't have to find a way to get her cans to within 10 feet of the curb (that's industry standard for how far we'll walk to get trash). For $2 a month...

Gifts of alcohol are a real touchy issue. Most garbage men will REALLY enjoy the gift, but, you might be making them break the law with that gift. It is NOT, in any way, shape, or form, legal to have ANY alcohol in a commercial vehicle, unless it is invoiced. That also covers alcohol fumes. (I know this from delivering liquor. I had to have an invoice for broken bottles, to explain the alchohol smell in the back of the truck.) So, while it is an appreciated gift, many garbagemen won't take it, simply because it could cause them to lose their license. If one of my helpers accepts a 6 pack of beer, and puts it on the rider step of the truck, and I get pulled over (don't even have to break a law for that to happen. Sometimes, state troopers do random inspections of commercial vehicles on the road), I get a DUI ticket, and lose my license in the time it takes for the officer to take it out of my hand...for a 6 pack of beer I won't drink, and might not even have known was on the vehicle. (I rarely drink alcohol, and NEVER keep any in the house. Too tempting.) So, if you are going to put out alcohol for your garbagemen, if you can, find a way to get it to them without it being on the truck, or, package it in a way that allows the driver to legitimately say they didn't know what was in the package. (I got a bottle of brandy that way last year. gave it away, but, it was in a sealed package that I opened at the shop.)

Also, many people tip their garbage men around Christmas time. We thank you for that. It is really appreciated, especially considering the extremely thankless nature of our job. Most people treat their mailman better than their garbageman, and we do about 6 times the work, for about half the pay. If you are going to tip your garbagemen, bear that in mind. Also, you might want to bear in mind that there might be two or three garbagemen on the truck, and your $5 tip, while truly appreciated, doesn't go as far among three people as it does with one. If you don't tip, I'm okay with that. Really. I feel uncomfortable accepting a gratuity for just doing my job. That doesn't mean I won't take it. It just means I'm not going to ask for one, expect one, or think less of you for not doing it. Besides, last year, I gave all my tips away to people who needed them more than I did. I might not do that this year. I haven't decided.

Tipping also doesn't hurt when you do your spring or fall cleaning. We WILL do a better job when we know the person knows how much more difficult they made our job with their pile of garbage, and is willing to express it.

I hope this will help you to make one of the most underappreciated jobs in the world more tolerable for those who do it. Yes, we'll pick up your trash, and yes, we have to do it. But, if you work with us, we won't be unhappy about cleaning up your mess. It's YOUR garbage, not ours. We just pick it up. We don't have to look at it for the next week. Remember that, before you think "They'll pick this up. They'll make an exception for me." We might. But, we might not.

Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful, to God, Corps and Country