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My job as a recycling worker

My job as a recycling worker, Part 1

For the past four years I have been working for a small recycling hauler in the city of Boston while waiting for my writing career to take off. Surprisingly I’m a better recycler than a writer, o well. Quick side note- I decided to do this one in two parts, because I soon realized for a blog this was going to be a little to long. I’ll post the second half in a week or two.

 On a weekly and many times daily basis I pick up recycling from a range of different types of businesses. This includes small non-profits, startups, large law firms in town and commercial warehouses. Depending on the day I may spend most of my time going in and out of offices in Downtown Boston or dodging forklifts in over-packed warehouses in East Boston.

 Before I started the job I wondered what people, especially customers would think of the “recycling guy”. Would people just think of me as a grubby janitor? Once I started I quickly began to see how people perceived us (my co-workers and myself). After about a year my idea of what people thought of the “recycling guy” had changed greatly from before I started the job.

 This job has greatly changed the way I think of people. Not only pertaining to how certain types of people respond to recycling and environmental issues, but also how people respond and act towards others.

What first surprised me was the amount of customers who were happy to see us. Regularly we are happily greeted by smiling customers who are very excited that we are showing up at their work to collect their crap, sorry I mean recycling.

 At least once a week people tell me how happy and even excited they are to have their recycling taken away. Once a woman even told me once “The day you dropped the barrels off (the day the recycling program started) was one of the happiest days of my life.” She was aggregating a bit, I hope. It was nice to hear though.

Contacts (people responsible for coordinating the recycling program) that we see on a regular basis we actually chat about non-recycling related stuff. I was with a co-worker once and soon realized I was doing all the work. This was because he was busy showing the contact at the office pictures of his new born. The two of them chatted about their children for about fifteen minutes. At another stop for about twenty minutes my coworker and I talked to a guy about how drunk he got camping during the weekend and smoked an entire pack of Marlboro Reds.

Most of the contacts at our stops are young women. Most of the offices we go into the person we talk to about the recycling are well dressed women in their twenties and early thirties. At first I was shy going into these offices as a scruffy recycling guy and having to talk to a usually attractive well dressed woman about where their recycling is or problems with the recycling program. Soon I realized that most of the time these women were happy to see me and are very friendly.

Something I have noticed, that has surprised me a little is that women working in the offices we service are just as willing  to help you with the recycling as men are. I would never have thought a woman dressed in nice office attire would be willing to help haul out recycling from their office. This isn’t meaning to sound sexist, but you wouldn’t expect a person in a dress/skirt and heals to be wheeling around seventy-five pound barrels of paper and huge bundles of cardboard. In an office setting they are usually more willing to help than a guy in his twenties or thirties.

Over time I have seen that the companies or organizations you assume would be really into having a good recycling program aren’t always the best recyclers. For instance environmental organizations aren’t always the best recyclers. Never would have guessed that before I started this job. You will probably think I’m lying, but many environmental organizations suck at recycling. Not all, but many.

Law firms and design firms are surprisingly good recyclers many times. You wouldn’t guess an office that has to deal with important legal cases or design some multi-million dollar structures would care about what they toss into their recycling barrel. Surprisingly most of the ones we service do care.

Any recycling program is dependent on customers who care and are willing to put forth an effort. On one of my routes I stop at two different large warehouses North of Boston that distribute building supplies. At both places the workforce is predominantly men in their late forties and fifties. Probably more on the conservative side, just a guess as I haven’t divulged into their personal and political beliefs. At both of these stops there are older guys that really care about the recycling. They are more than willing to help me load everything on to the truck and want to chat about how they pick out trash everyone else throws into recycling. Its not always just the younger generation that is into recycling.

On numerous occasions customers who care about their program have shown embarrassment when the recycling is heavily contaminated or messy. This happened one time at a design firm I pick up from on a regular basis. As I dumped one of their paper recycling barrels a cloud of toner dust wafted into air. Once the heavy black dust cleared \ a mix of trash was exposed hiding at the bottom of the barrel. One of the higher ups of the firm happened to walk by as I was pulling the trash out. Both himself and his co-workers apologized profusely and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.

Part two will be posted in a week or two. I know all of you will be sleepless and distraught while you are desperately waiting till I post the second half. Sorry, but you'll have to wait.