There is an old phrase recycling campaigns like to use: When you throw something away, where is “away”?
Garbage is an unavoidable consequence of any human habitation, and as Tahlequah grows, do does its need to handle refuse.
“There are day-to-day challenges,” said Les Ford, director of Tahlequah’s Solid Waste Services. “But the town is growing, and we still have about the same number of employees as 10 or 15 years ago. So the garbage itself is our biggest challenge.”
It may seem almost magical. The people of Tahlequah place their trash on the curb the night before an assigned day of the week, and the next morning, it is gone – or “away.”
For Tahlequah, “away” means collection, marshaling of the refuse at the Solid Waste Services facility, and loading the waste for transport to the Muskogee landfill. The city can generate about 480,000 pounds of trash in a day.
“I get up at about 4 a.m. and get home about 2:30 or 3 p.m.,” said Rick Dye, an 11-year employee. “There are lots of rotten smells. Some you get used to; others you don’t. We have picked up drug paraphernalia and dead animals, but the worst smelling is just a bag of trash that has been out in the sun for a number of days.”
Odors notwithstanding, Thomas Crow, a 28-year veteran of the department, said he and others enjoy some facets of refuse collection.
“It isn’t the highest-paying job, but it has always paid my bills,” he said. “A lot of guys like the hours. During the summer, they may have six or eight hours of daylight left to do other things. I liked starting early and finishing early because it let me spend time with my kids. Of course, I have complaints about my job, but who doesn’t?”
The top complaint among Tahlequah’s refuse workers? Loose trash.
“The city ordnance says all trash must be bagged,” Ford said. “That was written when we only had a truck with a bed and had to stack trash. But if it is contained, it is probably OK to be picked up. Loose trash in a can won’t be taken. The reason being we don’t cycle the truck’s hopper after every can, and wind can blow the trash all over the street.”
The No. 1 thing the people of Tahlequah could do to ease the labor of Solid Waste Services workers? Can it.
“I would love to see everybody in this town have a garbage can,” Ford said. “If they put it out in bags, the animals can get into it. We can’t clean up trash that has been strewn around by animals.”
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