by Duff McCutcheon
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
"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,"
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.