Storm troupers

Snowbanks no hurdle for trash collectors

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / February 3, 2011

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“This is not an ideal situation,’’ Patrick Norris huffed.

Jose Nufio, a trash man with Sunrise Scavenger, one of the city’s waste disposal contractors, was scaling a massive snowbank on Fuller Street, reaching for a bin of trash. Norris watched as Nufio hauled the bin through the snow and toward a trash truck, hoisted it up, and shook it empty.

“This is what slows us down, him dragging them around,’’ said Norris, 28, an operations manager with Sunrise Scavenger.

Nufio moved on to the next bank. Norris took note: another trash bin, another obstacle.

If ever there is a time to appreciate your neighborhood trash man, it is days like yesterday, and the day before, and every other snow day this season.

They are not heroes, or saviors, but they are among the workers who respond to duty on storm days — when many Boston workers have the day off.

The next time you see an empty trash bin lying on its side, consider this: Workers like Nufio, 45, may have climbed a snowbank to get it. Or, they dragged it through snow and slush. On cold days, when a bag is frozen to the bin, they reach in and rip it out. On days you think trash collection is canceled because of the weather, they are waiting for residents to run into their homes to get their waste.

The city says try this to help out: Put your trash bin at the mouth of your driveway, or at a corner, so they do not have to scale banks to get it. Even better: Shovel out a space for your bin.

Trash removal has been canceled only twice because of the weather this season — schools, by comparison, have been canceled five times — meaning in each storm the city is sending out roughly 60 pieces of equipment to collect trash from about 60,000 homes a day, said Robert DeRosa, superintendent of sanitation for the Department of Public Works.

“It’s certainly been a tough year,’’ DeRosa said.

The operation is multifaceted. As workers like Nufio and his driver, Bob Casey, make their way through preplanned routes picking up trash, operations managers like Norris tour the neighborhood, recording which streets have the heaviest loads, which are passable, which need to be plowed or sanded, and which have to wait until the next day for trash to be collected because of the conditions.

“We’d rather come back the next day than crash into a car or a pedestrian,’’ said Norris, giving a tour of the operation yesterday. “It’s only trash; no one’s going to take it.’’

Nufio will instead log the name of the street and the reason why the trash was not collected, and will report it to a city inspector.

Both will make sure the street is covered the next day.

River Street, for instance. Crews will have to return to several apartment buildings to collect from dumpsters because lots were not plowed by the owners.

One worker by the name of Rosario radioed Norris about Cunningham Street because he could not turn a corner.

“You’ll just have to do it again tomorrow,’’ Norris replied.

A particular problem, Norris said, is cars, the ones that take up half the street.

“They’re parked too narrow, and we can’t get by, so we can only do half the street,’’ Norris said.

He sympathizes with workers like Nufio, who have to scale the snowbanks.

“You have to have the equipment,’’ said Nufio, a veteran of 20 years on the job.

“Gloves and boots. On this job, you’ve got to have the equipment.’’

His driver Casey, 50, marveled at the countless people who assumed they will not be collecting trash.

“They stare at you, and stare at you, and stare at you, shoveling snow, and say, ‘I didn’t know you were here working today — mind if I grab my stuff,’’ said Casey.

It happened countless times yesterday. On Fuller Street in Dorchester, a young man ran outside with two bags of trash as the truck passed by.

His younger brother followed with an empty pizza box. Casey stopped the truck.

At the intersection of Milton Avenue, an elderly man ran to the truck to get rid of two bags of trash. He gave Nufio a thumbs-up for taking the bags.

On Mora Street, a middle-age man wearing pajama pants crept onto his first-floor porch and threw two bags of trash to the sidewalk. Nufio still had to scale a snow bank to get it.

“At least,’’ Norris said, “It wasn’t the third floor.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at