The Joy of Garbage Collecting

It is a unique profession and one that people don’t usually just fall into living out. Depending on who you are, collecting other people’s garbage is either no big deal or the grossest thing you have ever thought of doing. What about pumping septic tanks? Best of both worlds.

I grew up in the waste industry and was always the one to go into the dumpster to get the ball out at school. When the drivers would come around our school yard to empty the bin, I usually knew them. Even though I never thought this profession was for me, I did find that it didn’t bother me to collect someone else’s waste. I just did it.

Once you can put behind you the grossness of garbage collecting , you will actually see that you are in a unique profession. And since many people do not want to be around garbage there usually is no one fighting to compete. You can easily lock up a special calling by learning all of the trucks and how the collection process works. The you can go anywhere you want since most of the operations are all the same around the world.

Someone told me it was demoralizing to them to collect people’s waste. So, I can understand the challenges that others face but it has to get done, so I might as well jump in and just help clean it up.

See, I like to clean up and make areas look nice again. On the side of the road there is usually some form of illegal dumping. If I have time and room, I will usually just throw it in my truck and haul it off. That goes with the territory but it also helps make the community look a little nicer.

Why are many people grossed out by garbage? It could be a perception that since we haul someone’s garbage that we are hovering right around that level in our credibility. Again, its perception but people have looked down on me and made jokes. So what. I am used to it since grade school. I mean if they are going to pick on someone, it might as well be the garbageman, right?

Another component of the job is that we like to fly below the radar. Go out, collect the garbage and go home. Be invisible and let customers just come home to find an empty waste and recycling container. That is ideal, especially when they don’t know that you have even been there. That is good service. Anyway, it is nice to be left alone to go out and handle collecting the garbage without a huge fuss. See all the perks now?

So, that is what drives me to get up each day, influence our crew to raise the bar in their active roles. We need to think more of ourselves to make room for others to think more of our profession. We know what we do to keep the community free of additional health concerns, illegal dumping and a mess of garbage. Remember those shots of New York when the garbage couldn’t be collected? What a mess! Yet, I understand that people just want their garbage gone and not a word spoken otherwise.

…and that is the joy of garbage collecting…just make it go away…

Hey, so do you tip your garbage route driver or just want them to leave so you can go grab your cans? Are you grossed out by collecting garbage? Oh, do share as it helps me learn more as well.



The Importance of Teamwork

So, it was brought to my attention the other day that one of our crew members would not help out one of his teammates. It was a simple request and he was too busy trying to finish his work so that he could go home that he did not help out. In an operation that is individually based but surrounded by teamwork, that can’t happen.

Or so I thought, right? For a crew member to set aside the team for himself is just not going to work. Why? Because in our operation the workload is the workload, whether we have all 10 of the crew show up or only 8. We have to get it all done with less. When people are told their garbage is going to get picked, it needs to get picked up. Period.

When we are short staffed we rely on each other to pull together to finish well and to finish strong. That is what makes us successful…or failures. And that is what separates the great ones from just the average. Being a teammate that someone can county on is invaluable.

This leads me to another thought on how teamwork is valuable from another angle. Maybe it is me but I never wanted to get fired. Who does, right? My goal was to so valuable to an organization that they had to keep me around. Sort of like a chameleon, I would pay attention to the company internal workings, serve areas that needed serving and always work within the system.

That did not seem to hard to do. Another trait about me is that I like to serve. So, I would do my work but also would help make my co-workers lives easier. It was a way to serve others, let them know that they could count on me, while making myself a valuable teammate. If I was helping build up the team, why would they want to throw me off the team?

Too often I see people look out for themselves and not their team. We have had job applicants cut off customers in our lobby dropping  off their application. WHAT?!?!?! Ugh, that is not going to work. What is the thinking behind those actions? Who wants a selfish teammate?

My brain works overtime trying to find out where that thinking comes from? Competition and “survival of the fittest” I can understand but not when it comes to your own team. If you want to be on a successful team and are team centered, you will help your teammates. It is that simple. DO they think by focusing on themselves that they are being a good teammate?

Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. So, if your on a team but not a huge part of the team, you may want to get on board, as you might not be on the team much longer. Why do so many people miss that? You still have to get your job done but if you help you teammate in the process, what is wrong with that? That is the team I want to be on, a that is a TEAM!

What kind of teammate are you? Are you a selfish teammate or will you go the extra mile for a teammate so that they want you on their team? That can be the difference from winning the Super Bowl and finishing just 8-8, average….

Honest Coaching with Employees

How honest are you with your employees? As a leader, what approach do you take when coaching them or correcting some of their bad traits? Do they even know when they are performing below average? Not an easy thing to do with your crew, as each employee is different and a unique individual, so they have to be approached in their own way.

It makes sense if you think about it. As you get to know each of your employees, you will find unique people who view their world in their own way. To communicate and mentor them, you have to see it from their side, walk with them and coach from there. Of course, they have to be coachable to make progress, but if they trust you, then together you both can grow and learn.

Bill Parcels, former Super Bowl winning coach of the New York Giants, talked about how he had to coach his quarterbacks, Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, in two very different ways. At the time, Hosteler backed up Simms, until Simms got injured and they won Super Bowl XXV with Hosteler at the helm.

Anyway, Parcels shared how with Simms, he could get in his face and be tough on him. He would yell and gets Simms fired up and back and forth but they’d move forward. However, with Hosteler, he was different and more sensitive. If he yelled at Hosteler, he would lose him, so he had to just talk to him and use more feeling than hard coaching. In the end, Parcels coached both personality styles and won a Super Bowl. And that is how great leadership works.

Each team member is different. As you spend time with them, getting to know them, pay  close attention to how they tick. You will be amazed at what you can learn about someone, just by observing. That learning is ongoing but when going beyond their shell, I always try to then lead how I would want to be led. This is the approach I take:

I. Tell them straight up what you expect of them – If they don’t know, they can’t fix it. Give a team member every opportunity to correct their behavior, before you release them. If they don’t know what they are doing wrong, then YOU NEED TO TELL THEM. Some employees might just be a bad fit overall, and in that case a different approach may be needed. But being honest and fair lets them know that you really care about their wellbeing and want their success. After all, if they succeed, then you succeed.

II. Monitor and observe to see if change is taking place – Once you meet with them about working on the areas they need to improve on, step back and watch. Allow them their space to digest what you just shared and let them ponder the best way to incorporate those changes. You will see over time if they are changing and improving. Give yourself a few weeks to really grasp if they have committed to making the necessary changes.

III. Meet again to discuss progress/regress – After a few weeks and plenty of time to work on the notes from the previous meeting, have a follow up meeting. Again be honest and share the great progress that you see and how it has made them and the team better. If no progress has been made, well then you have to decide if another go around is worth it, or if this is the last meeting with them.

See, to me running a business is more than just earning a profit – we also can’t forget the people that make it happen. Our trucks would never leave the yard without our great staff. So, if I don’t help them grow and advance in various ways, then I am a failure. Make the time to invest in your employees and grow the people who bring life to the business…

Customer Service in the Garbage Industry, Part II

A few days ago, we discussed trying another approach and not taking out our frustrations  on a customer service rep. With this Part II on customer service, I want to discuss internal customer service within the workplace and its importance. Many people forget about your internal customers and thus cause friction amongst their co-workers.

So, who are our internal customers? Well, in the solid waste industry, we have the office and the drivers, who make frequent calls to one another throughout the day. While most of the time all goes well, there are times when the office reps get frustrated with the drivers and the drivers get frustrated with the office reps. What’s new right? However, from the office perspective the drivers are their internal customers. And it takes a little longer but we remind the drivers that the office reps are there internal customer as well and we don’t treat customers poorly.

I liken it to a coach and the player We see the player fired up yelling and the coach talking. It always looks odd but one is in the battle and the other on the sideline. Well, it is the same with the office reps and the drivers. The drivers are emotionally charged up but the office is down a few levels, and this can cause friction. Only when the office understands where the driver is coming from and the driver understands the challenges in the office, can the two step up their internal customer service to communicate better.

They have to communicate to get both of their jobs done effectively. So, without having a sit down with each side, we try to solve the problem before it becomes one. It starts with the office allowing each driver to express themselves in their own way when they answer. With the office getting inside the drivers head to know they are amped up, it makes it easier to communicate, as they do not try to fight them but work with them.

But if the driver doesn’t want to play nice, no matter how charged up they are, then we have a sit down with them to remind them who their customers are in this job. I have had the drivers sit in the office for some cross training, even answering phones, so they learn what pressures the office is up against. If not, then tension occurs and we have poor communication. So, once they see each others sides they are able to provide customer service to them and not take it personal.

I find it similar to doing work for friends. If you don’t take it serious it never gets done; or if it does, it may not be the same as it would if you had charged them. So, you have to treat it professionally and overlook the petty comments. We used to have numerous fights between the drivers and office reps because of how each side was treated and both sides felt as if they could treat them poorly since they worked together. We had to have numerous meetings to hammer the point home that they are internal customers and we need to treat them that way.

For us, this approach has worked wonders because each side is able to recognize when they are being poor sports and treating their internal customers badly. the topic is out on the table and we have found ways to tear down the walls since we cannot afford to have the petty fights when trying to operate a business. It just doesn’t work and the external customer suffers. No way!

How have you approached internal customer relations amongst departments? Are both sides understanding or has it gotten intense? These issues may seem petty but they have caused numerous communication issues that I had to deal with in depth. Humans are fascinating creatures.

Commitment to Community

Businesses need to be involved in the communities we serve!

In business, there is give and take; but as a community member, especially a business, it is important to be involved in your community affairs and to give back. For our operation, we use “Commitment to Community”. As the local solid waste & recycling hauler, the community we serve has to be our focus or we will fail. If we were not involved in our community outside of our business, how could we expect our community to thrive? Think about it.

The way the solid waste industry is set up in many local communities, is that usually there is one hauler contracted with the local governing authority to serve the people. Our service options and rates are controlled by that governing authority and the State also weighs in on things. There are many reasons for this type of set up in the solid waste industry, and in setting it up this way, solid waste haulers play a vital role in the community in which they serve. So, they HAVE to be involved somehow in the interests of the community!

What does it mean to be involved though? For us as a waste hauler, we are here to collect the garbage and recycling of EVERYONE who signs up for service. After serving our customers, our aim is to participate in the various community events that go on throughout the year. Besides service donations, we also try to attend meetings, work through service organizations, such as Rotary International, or even assist in other ways so that we get out and work toward something larger than us.

Of course, we can always do more to give back by getting more involved but the goal is help them out by doing what we are here to do. Too often, other forces disrupt local organizations that cause rifts and allow political alliances to further agendas that do not always benefit the community. Again, focusing on our main purpose, we aim to serve all involved and stay on the side of the community.

It can be called being political but we look at it as community involvement. We are committed to our community and have to know our role in the big picture. We have a vested interested in the success of our community and only working as team can we all succeed. By actively participating, we get to work alongside many other businesses and residents who are devoted to the success of our community. Without that vested interest of a community working together, nothing happens.

So, we can all set aside our egos no matter what community you are in and all do our part to make it a better place to live and work. Without that common interest and teamwork, our communities will remain stagnant and lose the energy of progress. We all have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough in the areas we serve. If so, how can we get more involved to increase the teamwork? If not, what can we do to get more involved?

Do you have some success stories from your local community and business environment? I bet there are countless….do share.


Customer Service in the Garbage Industry, Part 1

When you have had your garbage or recycling cart not emptied completely or picked up at all, does it upset you abnormally?  Think about that for a second. If so, unless it happens often,  why does that bother you so much? Then, if you call in to the office, does that frustration carry over to the customer service rep?

For some reason, we find in the garbage industry that people tend to be more frustrated or upset when they call our office; and that anger doesn’t always seem fit the crime. In other words, if you’re can was missed and you were not sure why but when you call into the office and you are yelling at the person on the other end of the phone, how does that work?

Now, in other businesses they get yelled at too but it just seems that in garbage industry, it is greater. We have made our share of mistakes. Our drivers have had times where cans are only half-emptied or actually missed altogether. That is not good service but we will do all in our power to solve it right away. Yet, the customer service rep did not miss the can but they get the brunt of the frustration. What are we missing?

My theory is that people don’t always get treated right by companies, so they feel if they do not yell or get upset, nothing will be done for them. That is not how it works for us. We aim to remedy all complaints, as we hate making those mistakes. So, our customer service crew is there to help solve a problem that they did not create.

So, why are we upset at them again?

I understand that we get upset. But to only know half of the story for why something went wrong with your can, and then to take it out on a person who did not actually make the mistake, could give us pause. I am not trying to lecture anyone but just want us all to be mindful – when we make these calls remember that the person on the other end of phone is there to help us by solving our problem. So, why take our frustration out on them?

Our office has just had to deal with this behavior a lot more lately and I just want to remind us all that there are real people on the other end of the phone to help us. They most likely did not cause our problem, so let’s focus our energy on solving the problem and not just venting our frustration. We can explain our problem, hear them out and then go from there. These reps. are there to help walk alongside you as they work to solve your problem, if only you give them the chance.

Split-Body Side Load Trucks

Have you ever seen one of these in your community? Perhaps not, but oh, how exciting they can be to use. We use them in our operation in Northern California and in the short of it, we were able to cut out a third truck and route. Talk about being efficient and environmentally friendly. Let’s look a little closer to what it is and how it works for your community.

Split Body Side Loader

(Photo: Alliance Refuse Trucks)

It is a split-body side load truck in simple terms. It is a fully automated garbage AND recycling collection vehicle all-in-one. Instead of having two vehicles come to your house, with one collecting the garbage and the other collecting the recycle, we are able to do it in one shot. By doing it this way, both carts are emptied at the same time, there is less travel on the city/county roads and it eliminated our routes from three to two.

As communities strive for efficiency and higher standards for health emissions, we are also striving to do our part to cut back on waste. It can be as simple as fuel waste or tearing up the roads by driving on them more than is necessary but the goal is be conscious of the role you play in how you collect the garbage and recycling. Practice what you preach, right?

Now, I didn’t include any formal road studies or anything other than seeing firsthand how well they have worked in our service area. We have been able to encourage recycling and provide safer and more efficient service for both the environment and the customer.

The problem lies in that as a fully white painted body truck, no one thinks we are separating the material. To them, it is all going in one truck. The divide is so small that unless you are looking for it, it appears that we are dumping both in the same truck. We do our best to educate through flyers, bringing the truck to fairs and parades, so that people can see it firsthand but still it does not always work.

Now we are looking at showing the separate doors and sides of the truck in a different way to let them know on the street that there is a divider,with the garbage going in one compartment and the recycling in the other.

If you gain anything out of this blog post, it is to show you that some trucks are split-body trucks and that we are separating out the garbage and recycling when we empty your cart. It does not all go into one body and mixed but we do keep the recycling out of the landfill.

Do you have collection trucks like this in your neighborhood? Have you noticed any efficiencies by not seeing as many trucks on the roadway? Each community is different so it is interesting to see what they are doing there. Thanks!