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Refuse Collectors

History

Refuse, or the solid waste generated by a community, has presented problems for just about every society throughout history; previously, the accepted method for disposal of refuse was burning at home or haphazard dumping into open pits or waterways. In the past couple of centuries, heavier population concentrations and industrial growth have vastly increased the quantity of refuse produced, making unregulated dumping impractical as well as unhealthy. As waste disposal has become more regulated, the job of the waste hauler has changed as well.

The first sanitary landfill was opened in 1912. In a sanitary landfill, refuse gathered from a community is deposited in a large pit in shallow layers, compacted, and covered daily with earth. Sealed in, the refuse undergoes slow, natural decomposition. When the pit is full, the top is sealed over and the land is available for reuse, often as a public park or other recreational area. Landfills are increasingly regulated in regard to their location, operation, and closure. The number of landfills, which peaked nationwide in the mid-1980s, is now dropping as communities fight against having landfills in their midst. The result is fewer, larger landfills that are located in communities that favor the jobs that the landfill offers. As a result, refuse collectors who transport waste to landfills may spend greater parts of their workday driving longer distances to the landfill.

Increases in recycling have also changed the job of the refuse collector. In more and more communities around the United States, people separate out materials such as glass bottles, metal cans, newspapers, certain plastics, and other designated refuse for recycling, thus limiting the flow of refuse into landfills and incinerators. The sale of recyclable materials can help to reduce the cost of the refuse disposal operation. Refuse collectors are the ones who pick up recyclables in most communities, sometimes on the same day, and even in the same truck, as the garbage is collected. Some trucks are equipped with separate bins for refuse and recyclables. Other refuse collectors may pick up only recyclables, usually in larger communities. The trend toward recycling requires refuse collectors who deal with these items to be familiar with how they are to be properly separated.

Another form of reclaiming materials is the composting of plant wastes, such as grass clippings, brush, and leaves, in community compost heaps. Composting is a way to decompose this material into mulch, which is rich in minerals and can be reclaimed for fertilizer. This mulch, or compost, may be used by the municipality or made available to its citizens. Refuse collectors sometimes pick up yard wastes and are therefore required to know when the resident has used the proper container for grass clippings.