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On the road again: Island’s garbage haulers have pretty much seen it all
A live and vicious raccoon, a partially dismembered deer carcass, at least 30 pounds of cat litter, patio furniture and one sleeping woman.
In his more than 17 years as a garbage man, Ian Madayag has found some pretty weird and unexpected things in the trash cans of Bainbridge Island.
“It’s a pretty fun job, I can’t complain,” Madayag said. “I really enjoy it, especially the people I get to work with.”
As one of about 15 drivers for Bainbridge Disposal, the island’s sole waste disposal organization, Madayag and the rest of the team are responsible for the safe and timely pick-up of all of the trash, recyclables and organic yard waste on the island — plus some areas of Poulsbo.
They’re out on the roads and hard at work before most people wake up, with up to 18 trucks working six days a week, to collect and remove the thousands and thousands of tons of trash generated by the community.
“Garbage never stops,” said general manager Dave Stamley.
“We try real hard to benefit the community. Some trucks fill up three or four times a day with recyclable material,” Stamley added. “People are doing good with it.”
Owned by Heather Church, who took over the company from her father, Bainbridge Disposal has been the local go-to resource for solid waste removal since 1966.
Though the sight of the garbage trucks making the rounds may be nothing new to daily commuters, the actual day-to-day tasks that accompany the position are surprising.
“We each do our own maintenance on the trucks too,” Madayag explained. “Changing brakes, changing out the lights. As much as I can learn, I’m willing to do it. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be greased.”
Then, of course, there’s the collecting work itself. Though some newer truck models offer the drivers mechanized assistance with the trash cans, the majority of the residential work is done the old-fashioned way: one can at a time, by hand.
The driver jumps down from the truck, empties the roadside can into the back, replaces it, gets back in the truck and drives maybe no more than a few feet to the next can.
“Every day is pretty demanding on your body,” Madayag said. “We just finished getting everyone’s pumpkins. Three or four pumpkins in a can, plus garbage, is pretty heavy.”
“I don’t have to go to the gym to stay in shape,” he noted.
Barring the presence of heavy ice, which would make operating the trucks too dangerous, there is nothing that will stop the drivers of Bainbridge Disposal from making the rounds. They don’t stop for rain or snow, and if one person is sick, they have backup drivers waiting to step in and take over. Only the major holidays are cause for a day off around here: Christmas, Thanksgiving, July Fourth and New Year’s Day.
“They [the drivers] work hard and do a good job,” Stamley said. “Overall they get it done, no matter what happens during the day.”
Rather than give into what could quickly become a tedious grind, the drivers find ways to keep things interesting by playfully competing with each other.
“We try to work at a fast pace so the other trucks don’t have to come back me up,” Madayag said. “I try to hold my own out here.”
Madayag said that he’s always wanted to be a garbage man since watching his father, who also worked for Bainbridge Disposal.
“Sometimes dad would bring home the truck and let me crawl around in it,” he said.
“These trucks are pretty amazing. Even if I was not doing this, I’d still like to be involved driving these big trucks. Now my son is the same way, he wants to be a garbage man, too. I want him to know the value of a dollar, but I don’t know if I want him to work this hard,” he said.
Hard work, however, is one of Madayag’s favorite parts of the job.
“I’m not sitting in some office seeing the same thing,” he said. “You get to take out your frustrations by just working hard. The worst part is the bad weather. It gets a little old when it rains every day for a week or two, but then again in the summer time, you get the really nice weather. There’s different scenery, and I like that.”
Discussing the obvious smell factor, Madayag said that a person gets used to it quickly and, in fact, he rarely notices it anymore.
“The smells are not so bad now that it is getting colder out,” he said. “In the summer time, this garbage can get pretty ripe.”
A common statement among the drivers is that working in this field has made them more environmentally conscious, something that Madayag agrees with.
“I always think twice about what we’re throwing away at home,” he said.
Having seen a landfill personally, Madayag encourages people to recycle everything that they can.
“Watch what you throw away,” he cautioned islanders. “There’s still one or two more people who have to deal with it before it gets disposed of.”
Madayag and the other drivers make it a point to be part of the neighborhoods they serve, and are often greeted on and off duty. A familiar set of eyes on the community during the day is a good thing, according to Madayag, because the garbage men get to know who is supposed to be around and who is not.
“I don’t know if they know it,” Madayag said. “But we’re always keeping an eye out. If we see something weird, all we have to do is make a call.”
When considering public service-oriented occupations, it’s easy to forget about the garbage men next to the flashy police cars and fancy firetrucks. But it’s worth noting that great societies through history have always handled waste management in an effective and sanitary manner. Today, the tradition continues daily -— starting at 5:30 a.m. — at Bainbridge Island Disposal.