Life and Family

Doing Your Job


Trashy Trucking

by Duff McCutcheon
Untitled Document

It's not a glam job by any means, but trash hauling does have its perks. You're generally home every night, the pay's a little better, and until we find a way to eat the stuff, wear it, or build houses out of it, there will always be garbage. Job security's pretty tight.

With limited landfill space, southern Ontario is Canada's epicenter for the trash hauling business. Much of Toronto's garbage goes to landfills in Michigan, and many other southern Ontario municipalities truck their garbage to sites in southwestern Ontario, Michigan, and New York. The same goes for much of southern Ontario's industrial, commercial, and institutional (IC&I) waste.

A typical day for Beamsville, Ont. trash hauler J.E. Culp Transport's 40 drivers depends on whether they're heading for the incinerators in New York or the landfills in Michigan.

"You start early - 3 a.m. - and you're working a full 12- to 13-hour day at least. If you're going to Michigan, you'll be going to Toronto to load up, head down south, dump, and then come back by 3 or 4 p.m. Same for New York - you may leave here at 3:00 a.m., go pick up the first load, go to New York, come back and repeat, and end the day at 3:00 p.m. The good thing about it is that you get home for supper with the family every night," says J.E. Culp proprietor Jim Culp.

Drivers with Elmira, Ont.'s BJ Bear Grain Co. Ltd., clock similar hours, with a typical day starting at 3:00 a.m. from the yard and returning around 4-6:00 p.m. BJ Bear is an IC&I outfit with private clients. One of their routes is the short drive from London to Chatham, so a driver might start out in Kitchener-Waterloo into Chatham, and come back to London with another load for Chatham. Other drivers might haul one load a day from Toronto to Michigan.

Like anything else, there are certain skills that are important to the job.

"You're spending a lot of time driving in landfills, so you need to have experience driving in extreme circumstances," says Kyle Grundy, vice president of BJ Bear. "It's not just putting it into gear on a straight piece of road. Landfills in the springtime, for example, are very treacherous - you can easily get bogged down in mud to your axles." In filling out his roster of 50 drivers, Grundy says he also looks for drivers with experience in hauling heavy weight, which can top out at 60 metric tons per load. Plus they need to have lift-axle experience. "I don't feel comfortable taking on someone just out of driving school. It's a lot of weight and there's a lot more to think of than just pulling a van."

Culp says you have to be a pro at backing up because you have to be able to hook up to a compactor. And there are personal skills that are also important. Since you're on the same route day-in and day-out, you're dealing with the same people every day, and if you've got an attitude, you won't last long. "It's not like a guy going down to the middle of the states where he's never going to see them again. You have to develop relationships with people, and if you develop good ones, the customer is going to be happy. We try to stress that.

"We had one guy who wanted to do garbage in the worst way so he could be at home every night, but when he found it was the same routine every day, he wanted to get back on the highway. It's not for everyone - it's the same thing, same people, same location every day. Some people really enjoy that and do well, and some just don't like it."

Tools of the Trade
As for equipment, drivers can expect to learn their way around specialized trash trailers with "walking" floors, in which the floor actually moves in the trailer, versus a dump trailer that tips. The 48-ft trailers use hydraulic cylinders underneath that push the truck forward when it's unloading. The floor is built from slats that shift back and forth. Typically, the slats are arranged in groups of three with one slat of the three lifting and sliding backward. The cycle repeats, lifting and pushing the trash out of the back of the trailer.

Ninety percent of BJ Bear's trash hauling equipment is Universal Handling trailers with walking floors and anywhere from four to six axles. Eighty percent of those are open-top trailers with roll tarp. Grundy says all BJ Bear trailers are made of air plate, an extra strength steel, because of the abuse they face from loaders and excavators. "They really rattle the trailers around," he says.

Changes to U.S. hours-of-service rules have had an impact on Ontario trash haulers. Grundy says his firm has had to cut down on driver hours because of the changes, and Culp says his drivers have to manage their time and make sure they're not stopping for lunch, because that goes against their 14 hours. "Plus, the drivers really have to watch waiting times at the border."

And, with all the negative attention around Ontario trash heading to Michigan these days, you can expect some BS to put up with when you are in the U.S.. Grundy says going through the Windsor-Detroit border isn't the problem, but his drivers do get targeted for more random inspections by DOT guys and at the coops. "I don't think the DOT is specifically trying to pick on us, I think it's more of a political thing - they want to show the public that they're concentrating on these waste haulers that are so 'evil'.

"There's a lot of headaches and uncertainties in the industry right now and there's always talk of closing the border. I don't think they can do that - waste's a commodity just like auto parts. There's always going to be waste, so they're going to have to come up with alternatives if the border is shut to waste. And there's not enough local landfills so it will have to be shipped somewhere, whether it's up north or to other landfills in southwestern Ontario.

On the other side of the garbage divide, the Michigan landfill owners love the stuff, according to Culp. "They're making money. They ask us when we can bring more garbage because they're short. They're accustomed to certain volumes and when it's not coming they get a little panicky. Garbage has been going to Michigan for 20 years and most people didn't know anything about it until Toronto started sending their garbage."

But for any headaches, the job does pay relatively well. A typical garbage hauler will make $200 a day, with perhaps a bit more driving to Michigan because the mileage is slightly further. "It's comparable to most driving jobs. The guy that's driving to Florida might make $1,200 a week versus the guy that's running garbage might make $1,000. The difference is the garbage guy brings a lunch pail and the Florida guy is spending money on the road all the time," says Culp.

Grundy agrees: "I would say the pay is higher because we're running specialized equipment and we're coming home empty, versus a van that's running very few empty miles. Our per-kilometre rate is higher than most."

And regarding job security, there's always going to be garbage. It might not smell that great in the summer, but as long as people are putting out the trash every week, there'll be work for trash haulers.