“Trash,” Sofia Vargas said with a wry smile as she dumped the recycling can that a client had incorrectly stuffed with trash into her truck. San Angelo LIVE! had the opportunity to ride in a recycling truck with Vargas, a driver for Republic Services, as she went about her duties.
Vargas explained that it is almost impossible to tell what is inside a recycling can until she dumps the can into her truck. She could have gotten out and preemptively opened the can herself to check for trash, but the extent of her route would have made it difficult to finish on time.
Unfortunately, Vargas discovered several loads of trash were stuffed into recycling bins throughout the morning.
According to Fernando Cedillo, Republic Operations Hauling Supervisor, the biggest challenge for the recycling program as a whole is clients leaving trash in the recycling cans.
“[The drivers] have to try to discern what’s good recycling, what’s bad recycling--if they’re going to leave it on the ground, or if they’re going to pick it up,” Cedillo said. “So she knows, after so often, which customers are not going to recycle properly and she decides ‘do I want to pick this up or not?’ because that just creates more work for the recycling company.”
San Angelo LIVE! asked Vargas what the biggest struggle is for her every day on the job.
“Really, it’s just getting the route done because they’re so big,” Vargas said. “For recycling, [it’s a] bigger size than your trash routes.”
Vargas explained that Republic has four recycling drivers compared to six trash drivers that cover the city. Working the recycling side of the operations is not without its perks, however. Recycling drivers have a sit down cab in their truck, but trash drivers stand up most of the time, “so they’re a little bit more tired than we are,” Vargas said.
San Angelo LIVE! asked Vargas how she responds to criticism dealing with the location of the trash and recycling cans.
“I really can’t say anything because they [the clients] have every right to put their cans where they go, just as long as they’re close enough to grab it with our machines,” Vargas said. “If [they’re] not, then that creates more time for us to actually have to pick up their can, take it to the truck, dump it, put it back where they had it, and it just creates a longer day for us.”
Cedillo claimed that trash and recycling cans are required to be 3 feet apart from each other and 5 feet from any obstacle.
“We don’t want to damage their vehicles [or] their mailboxes,” Cedillo said. “If they put them in the wrong spot, there’s potential that we may damage their property, which is what we don’t want to do. Sometimes we don’t service said containers because they’ve got them in bad spots or they don’t put them close to the curb or they put trash and recycled butted next together and it’s hard to grab them.”
San Angelo LIVE! asked Ray Grothaus, General Manager of Republic Services in San Angelo and Abilene, how he would reply to criticism that Republic Services receives.
“At Republic Services, we listen to our customers,” Grothaus said. “We welcome feedback from our customers. This helps us continue to improve our services. Customers can reach us by calling customer service @ 325-481-7711, or they can reach me directly at [email protected].”
The Big Picture
Vargas told San Angelo LIVE! that the drivers also have what they call a “disabled list,” which lists Republic’s handicapped or elderly clients. For each client, the drivers get out of the truck and retrieve the can themselves.
“A lot of people think we just drive all day and not get out of the truck,” Vargas said. “It’s actually a lot more than that. Because of the size of the truck that we have, we have to also look for overhead lines, traffic coming, people cutting us off. We’re not just driving; we actually do get out of the truck and have to do our job as well.”
Vargas even claimed that her truck had been rear ended a few weeks ago.
Overall, Vargas said it would be beneficial for the community to work together with Republic, and for people to try and see things from her perspective.
“We can only do so much,” Vargas said. “We also need the community to help us as well."
Grothaus added, “Waste removal is vital in keeping our communities clean and beautiful. With the new recycling program, we are also reducing the environmental footprint in San Angelo and preserving the environment for generations to come. We are committed to being a good neighbor to the communities we serve in San Angelo and throughout the Concho Valley.”
San Angelo LIVE! asked Vargas what keeps her going in her 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day.
“Just meeting customers, making sure my route’s getting done,” Vargas said. “There’s nobody else that’s going to do it for me. I like getting my customers done, getting them taken care of [and] knowing their stuff is picked up when it needs to be."