At 4 a.m., while most Canyon County residents are rolling over for a couple more hours of sleep, Republic Services driver Dan Biddle is starting his route collecting trash and recycling.
“It’s the closest job a guy can get to being self-employed,” Biddle said. “There’s a lot of pride in keeping the city clean.”
Biddle has been working for Republic Services — a national company that collects trash and recycling in Canyon and Ada counties — for 19 years. On the average day he works between 10 to 12 hours finishing his different routes around Nampa.
“You go out and do a good job and provide a good service for the customer,” Biddle said. “Someone has to do it, and I love doing it.”
DIRTY AND DANGEROUS
About a decade ago, Republic Services began using trucks that mechanized the process of collecting garbage. This change allows routes to be completed with one driver and allows drivers to cut down on the number of times they leave their trucks. The change made collecting trash a safer job.
Nationally, refuse and recyclable material collector is in the fifth most dangerous jobs after logging workers, fishermen and fishing-related jobs, aircraft pilots and flight engineers and roofers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 31 fatal work injuries in 2016 in the refuse and recyclable material collector field.
On Dec. 11, a Republic Services' diesel technician, Derek Dale Christensen, 40, of Bettendorf, Iowa, was killed when servicing the hydraulic system of a front-loader collection truck. The dumpster lift arms began to move and pinned his body between the lift arms and the truck cab.
According to Dave Fisher, general manager for Republic Services in Idaho, Republic Services often goes years without any employee casualties taking place.
A report by USA Today stated that 67.7 percent of refuse and recyclable material collector fatalities are related to transportation incidents. The same report stated that 29 percent of those facilities involved accidents where a worker was struck by someone’s car.
“That (danger) is inherent when you’re working in and around traffic, but we really pride ourselves in being the safest garbage and recycling company in the nation,” Fisher said.
According to Biddle, the addition of mechanized arms that can grab trash cans removes a lot of the opportunities for trash collectors to get hurt while on the job.
Now, instead of someone riding in the back loading up trash, trucks have an arm that reaches out and grab residential trash cans from the side.
Commercial drivers like Biddle use trucks that have arms in front to grab large commercial bins and tip them over the top of the truck.
According to Republic Services residential driver Greg Harreld, garbage collectors in areas such as Caldwell, which don’t require residents to put extra trash into a container, risk injury when loading up those extra bags by hand.
MAKING THE ROUNDS
Biddle is legally allowed to haul a maximum of 30 tons at once, so he takes several trips to Pickles Butte Sanitary Landfill every day.
Over the almost two decades that Biddle has worked for Republic Services, he said he’s watched different areas grow and the city of Nampa thrive.
“It’s incredible the growth that’s happening,” he said. “Just about everywhere there is a piece of land, a complex is being built.”
Biddle said the long days give him a chance to think — about his two kids, about his grandchild who was just born, about the five weeks of paid vacation he’ll have this year to spend with them.
While collecting recycling, Biddle said he’s noticed more people participating in the program.
“It’s not enforced, so it’s nice to see how many people get on board,” Biddle said.
Last summer, the city of Boise implemented a curbside compost program, giving residents the opportunity to have produce collected and then composted. Biddle said he’d love to see a similar program implemented in Canyon County.
“Anything we can keep out of the ground is a plus,” Biddle said.
According to Fisher, cities are offered a menu of options — from recycling and trash collection to just trash collection to curbside compost — and then Republic Services assigns drivers to the area.
“It is really up to the individual city, and it is usually spurred by citizen request of what services are provided,” Fisher said.
CLEAN AND GREEN
In 2015 Republic Services began transitioning to natural gas burning trucks instead of diesel.
“Initially we worked with the Clean Cities Initiative and were awarded a grant that brought just more than $5 million into the project, and part of that project was then used for infrastructure,” Fisher said.
According to Biddle, that change makes quite a difference for the environment when drivers are averaging at least 600 miles a week. Biddle said now the trucks are “super clean and super efficient” and can go twice as long without maintenance.
“Individual trucks now run right at $300,000, and in the summertime we run over 150 routes and the vast majority of those trucks are natural trucks,” Fisher said.
THE COMMANDMENTS OF A GOOD CUSTOMER
On Monday, Harreld’s busiest day, he collects trash from 1,019 Nampa residences. During the 11 years that Harreld has collected trash, he’s noticed that “customers don’t consider where they put their (trash) can or park their car.”
“The claw is designed to pick up the can from the gutter,” Harreld said. “It’s a safety issue to make sure (kids) have a clear sidewalk.”
Harreld said to ensure a resident’s trash is collected, they should make sure it isn’t on the sidewalk or blocked by their car, and the lid is down.