There was a blizzard on Wednesday morning.
“I’m glad they picked this day for you to come with me,” Kyle Hannah said after unloading a snow-filled blue box into his recycling truck.
“You can see, to the full extent, how shitty this can get.”
Waste removal has always been a mystery; a magical thing only witnessed by the select few who rise with the sun.
On Wednesday, I was one of those people, arriving at the City’s garbage truck depot to meet Hannah and his Supervisor at 6 a.m.
The Supervisor, Lyn Suggitt, had explicit instructions for me.
“Don’t break a leg and listen to Kyle,” was the most crucial advice.
Hannah, 25, is one of Kingston’s 31 waste collection workers. My first question for him was an easy choice: “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen throw away?”
Hannah’s answer was quick. A severed deer head. Probably from a hunting trip, he said.
We started at the west end of Johnson St., and moved towards campus. If the street signs weren’t enough to indicate our arrival in the Queen’s Ghetto, the increase in pizza boxes were.
“Queen’s is bad for sorting,” Hannah said, adding that improperly organized recycling occurred throughout the City.
“Everywhere is different.”
During his dance out of the driver’s seat, onto the road and up onto the side of the truck with bin in hand, Hannah would routinely retreat into the cab to grab a notification slip informing the resident on how their recycling was wrongly sorted.
Before beginning the route, Hannah prepared over 100 notification slips, ready to be distributed into mismanaged recycling bin. Stacks of slips, organized according to mistake, were arranged throughout the cab of the truck. One stack of slips in the truck reminded residents that the City of Kingston’s solid waste disposal program does not accept number one plastics without screw tops. Another explained that the resident’s bin had not been collected because it they put out their blue bin on a grey bin day, or vice versa.
“I can see how people get frustrated,” Hannah said. “We’re not trying to get anybody mad, we’re just trying to do our jobs and educate a little at the same time.”
As we hurried along the Queen’s route, Hannah could easily identify the repeat offenders.
“I’d bet any money this guy’s bin is full of number one plastics,” he said correctly.
He said he’ll often return to a bin that was improperly organized the previous pickup to find the problem unresolved and his notification slip covered in slime, stuck to the bottom of the bin.
“I don’t think everyone reads the tags,” he said.
Hannah would usually attempt to salvage the recyclable materials from mismanaged bins, but in extreme cases he said leaving the whole bin makes it more likely that individuals will fix the problem.
“People don’t want to wait until next week,” Hannah said, adding that it’s typical for residents to run after his truck in their underwear to deliver their recycling.
“People will get into their cars and cut you off or pull you over saying ‘hey, you missed me.’”
At a stop where garbage and recycling was scattered across the house’s front yard, Hannah picked up the recyclable materials and moved on.
He said garbage and recycling collectors aren’t to blame for littered lawns.
“It’s wind or animals or, believe it or not, rowdy kids,” he said. “It would piss me off too … I know it looks bad but I can’t clean up every lawn.”
After finishing collection on Johnson St., Hannah moved onto several side streets. His truck is one of two smaller models in the City’s 20-truck fleet. Unlike the larger, more iconic trucks, Hannah’s truck is able to turn around at the end of dead-end streets. It’s capable of picking up garbage, blue box or grey box material. After filling the truck’s depository, we headed to the Kingston Area Recycling Centre to dump the loot, passing a garbage truck on the way.
“That’s Dan,” Hannah said, gesturing to the man riding on the back.
Driving with Hannah, I heard the legend of the worker who lost his big toe during a route after falling into the back of the truck, but Hannah assured me he’d never shared a remotely similar fate. We were both wearing steel-toed boots, safety vests and heavy duty gloves.
“It’s nowhere near as dirty and as smelly as I thought,” the two-year veteran said. “You take your garbage out with your bare hands and I pick it up with gloves.
“I like this job. I like being in the elements.”
Kingston’s Solid Waste Disposal program ran an operating budget of around $6.5 million in 2010. Recycling collection and the Green bin program cost the City approximately $1 million each, while Garbage collection cost $1.9 million.
The recycling centre processed and marketed 11,031.34 tonnes of recyclable material last year, creating a 1.2 million revenue for the City.
The centre sorts the recyclables and compacts the useable material into large, rectangular bails to be marketed and sold.
“There’s always the skeptics that say ‘oh, all recycling goes to the garbage,’ ” said Heather Roberts, supervisor for Kingston’s Solid Waste Disposal program.
“That’s just not true.”
When Hannah and I reached the centre, the truck was weighed before we were permitted into the facility.
A man in a bulldozer guided us into a warehouse filled with ceiling-high piles of cardboard and paper.
“You got that shit packed in tight brother,” he said, inspecting our load before squashing it into the exsiting piles.
“Oh, she’s all frozen in there,” Hannah said, laughing as he chipped away at the icy paper and cardboard with a rake.
After the recycling centre we stopped at a Tim Horton’s before resuming the route, where Hannah broke his no-coffee rule which he’d devised to minimize bathroom breaks.
“I don’t know what someone would think if I banged on the door and asked to use the bathroom.”
Sitting at the traffic light at University Ave. and Brock St. at around 10 a.m., a long series of over 100 bins waiting for us to collect was visible through the snow storm.
“On a nice day with dry roads,” Hannah said, “I’d be almost done by now.”
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