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I had to get a physical to renew the license I need to drive the hauling trucks. As I sat in the waiting room, it occurred to me to actually read the fine print on the form they handed me.  Under the heading “Physical Qualifications for Drivers”, there was a section called “The Driver’s Role” which did a nice summary of some of the physical as well as the emotional stresses truck drivers face.  I’m reprinting it here for your reading pleasure:

Responsibilities, work schedules, physical and emotional demands, and lifestyles among commercial drivers vary by the type of driving that they do. Some of the main types of drivers include the following: turn around or short relay (drivers return to their home base each evening), long relay (drivers drive 8-10 hours and then have an 8-hour off-duty period), straight through haul (cross country drivers); and team drivers (drivers share the driving by alternating their 4-hour driving periods and 4-hour rest periods). The following factors may be involved in a driver’s performance of duties: abrupt schedule changes and rotating work schedules, which may result in irregular sleep patterns and a driver beginning a trip in a fatigued condition; long hours; extended time away from family and friends, which may result in lack of social support; tight pickup and delivery schedules, with irregularity in work, rest, and eating patterns, adverse road, weather and traffic conditions, which may cause delays and lead to hurriedly loading or unloading cargo in order to compensate for the lost drive time; and environmental conditions such as excessive vibration, noise, and extremes in temperature. Transporting passengers or hazardous materials may add to the demands on the commercial driver. There may be duties in addition to the driving task for which a driver is responsible and needs to be fit. Some of these responsibilities are: coupling and uncoupling trailer(s) from the tractor, loading and unloading trailer(s) (sometimes a driver may lift a heavy load or unload as much as 50,000 lbs. of freight after sitting for a long period of time without any stretching period); inspecting the operating condition of tractor and trailer(s) before, during, and after delivery of cargo; lifting, installing, and removing heavy tire chains; and, lifting heavy tarpaulins to cover open top trailers. The above tasks demand agility, the ability to bend and stoop, the ability to maintain a crouching position to inspect the underside of the vehicle, frequent entering and exiting of the cab, and the ability to climb ladders on the tractor and/or trailer(s). In addition, a driver must have the perceptual skills to monitor a sometimes complex driving situation, the judgment skills to make quick decisions, when necessary, and the manipulative skills to control an oversize steering wheel, shift gears using a manual transmission, and maneuver a vehicle in crowded areas.

So next time you see a truck with its blinker on, give it some room to merge. The person driving it has probably had a rough day. Watch after they merge and you just might see a ‘thank you’ flash from its tail lights.

the dangers of hauling

A severe ankle sprain (or worse?) has prevented me from hauling much of anything these past few weeks. And now’s when I need very badly to find some new items to renovate and furnish my friend’s new house with. I’m scheduled for an MRI on Friday. In the meantime, I’ll keep updating the site with stories from the past few years, including the one I get asked to tell the most – practically begged sometimes – at social gatherings. And maybe Flores or the Edge (Edge, are you out there?) will pick up the slack and post something good.

I didn’t sprain my ankle on the job, but I’ll use the occasion to make a point. Elizabeth Royte writes:

According to New York’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, refuse collection is classified as “high-hazard” work, along with logging, fishing, driving a taxicab, and mining. While the fatality rate for all occupations is 4.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, garbage collectors die at a rate of 46 per 100,000. In fact, they’re approximately thee times more likely to be killed on the job than police officers or firefighters.

And the US Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks “refuse and recyclable materials collectors” 5th in a 2004 list of America’s ten most dangerous jobs (just behind steel workers, fishers, aircraft pilots, and loggers; truck drivers, which haulers also are, rank 9th) with an average of 43.2 deaths per 100,000 employees.

These numbers might be declining as more and more cities switch to one-person trucks with a robot arm that does the lifting. But the number one cause of death in our industry is frustrated motorists trying to pass a garbage truck and running over the worker.

So be patient, everyone, and be careful.

The EPA has baked us a few delicious pies:

Total MSW Generation

Products Generated in MSW

Management of MSW

“Municipal solid waste” – otherwise known as trash or garbage – consists of everyday items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, and batteries. Not included are materials that also may be disposed in landfills but are not generally considered MSW, such as demolition debris, municipal wastewater treatment sludges, and non-hazardous industrial wastes. [source: EPA Executive Summary: Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures (PDF 18 pp., 114 KB)]

The EPA has a page on basic facts about MSW and a page devoted to their most revent 2005 study. A new study is due out in 2007.

I hope you enjoyed the pies.

space junk 2

Ever since China destroyed an old weather satellite with an anti-satellite missile in January, there’s been a lot of talk about junk in space. From an article by William J. Broad in the International Herald Tribune:

For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens…
Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests…

A solution to the cascade threat exists but is costly. In his Science paper and in recent interviews, Nicholas Johnson of NASA argued that the only sure answer was environmental remediation, including the removal of existing large objects from orbit…

Robots might install rocket engines to send dead spacecraft careering back into the atmosphere, or ground-based lasers might be used to zap debris…

If nothing is done, a kind of orbital crisis might ensue that is known as the Kessler Syndrome…(which) holds that the space around Earth becomes so riddled with junk that launchings are almost impossible. Vehicles that entered space would quickly be destroyed.

Wikipedia weighs in on space debris:

Proposals have been made for ways to “sweep” space debris back into Earth’s atmosphere, including automated tugs, laser brooms to vaporize or nudge particles into rapidly-decaying orbits, or huge aerogel blobs to absorb impacting junk and eventually fall out of orbit with them trapped inside…Other ideas include the gathering of larger objects into an orbital “junk yard”, where they could be used as resources should future needs arise, while keeping them out of the way.

Forget robots, laser brooms, and aerogel blobs – forget all that. What the world needs is a capable hauler to go into orbit and collect all that space junk. If you’re listening, NASA, I just want you to know that I will volunteer my services for this important job, at no cost to the American taxpayer.

Further reading:

As the EU Parliament debates proposals about packaging regulations, this little tidbit gets unearthed:

Mintel reports that for the three month period to November 2006 the word “recyclable” was the leading claim in new food launches, slightly ahead of the “natural” claim.

This is an improvement on its position in the same period in 2005, when ‘recyclable’ only featured on 3.3 per cent of new products compared to 7.7 per cent during the latest measurement period, and ‘natural’ was the leading claim on 10.3 per cent of proudcts.

The word “natural” appeared on 7.1 per cent of new products in the three month period to November.

It feels like one of those ball races they do on the jumbotron at sports arenas, with the lead constantly changing and no one really caring. Who will win next year? “Natural” or “Recyclable”?

(via Food Production Daily)

Okay. A lot of shit going on lately. So here’s an interesting article about end-stream scavenging – mostly of human waste – in India. Here’s a coupla tidbits in case you don’t want to read the whole thing:

According to government estimates, there are more than 600,000 manual scavengers nationwide.

Activist groups working to abolish the practice put the number at around 1.3 million and say there is a widespread ignorance of the ban even among government officials.

A majority of people in the profession are “dalits” who have been at the bottom of Hinduism’s ancient caste hierarchy in which people were divided on the basis of their profession. Priests top the ladder, followed by warriors and traders.

Dalits did jobs considered lowly and impure, such as scavenging and disposing of dead bodies and hence were treated as untouchables.

Discrimination on the basis of caste is banned, but India’s nearly 16 million dalits remain among the poorest, despite affirmative action plans by the government.

Among low-caste professions are trash collectors called kabadiwallahs who buy and sell refuse such as paper and plastic while others perform a variety of manual chores under the term sweeper but which can include cleaning public toilets.

Even among the dalits, there are sub-castes: the cobbler and barber communities are considered higher than the scavengers, most of whom are women.

Estimates of India’s recycling rate hover around 90%. This is one way they do it.

And here’s a video I shot once in India of a girl doing something not quite as nasty: collecting cow dung for fuel. Enjoy.


the Waste Chain

What happens to your municipal solid waste after it leaves your curb? It travels down what we like to call the waste stream. (Another term I like is the ‘Garbage Cycle’, but I’ll talk about that terminology in another post.) Along the waste stream is a sort of hierarchy of different groups of people working to pluck things out of it, or what I like to call the “waste chain”.

The term “waste chain” is meant to echo and be used interchangeably with the term “food chain”. Your waste is a kind of nourishment to many other people after it leaves your house. (And as more and more people are beginning to realize, waste equals food.) Once anything is produced, it is immediately, potentially waste. You could almost look at our entire economy and conclude that the thing we’re so hellbent on producing is not food or goods, but waste. (Every parent knows that feeling that what they’re buying for their kids is already garbage, and us haulers can confirm that many toys have a longer life as garbage than as toys.) And when something gets salvaged, it would be wrong to think that it exits the waste stream; rather, it just gets put back higher upstream, its eventual return to the landfill merely delayed.

The term “waste chain” also implies a certain pecking order or ecosystem that fits nicely with the way “dibs” get passed down to different groups of waste workers as waste travels downstream. Read on for a brief description of some of the different groups that play important roles in the waste chain: JUNKERS – COLLECTORS/HAULERS – MRF WORKERS – TRAILER DRIVERS – DOZER OPERATORS – SCAVENGERS… (more…)

US methane emissions

In our first week of Hauling Secets there’s been a lot of non-worksafe content and commenting, or what Bill Hicks would call “dick jokes” (or insert some pun about “trash talk” or “garbage mouth” here). Lest our readers think that’s all we’re good for, I thought I’d change the mood a bit with some cold, hard facts.

From Elizabeth Royte’s excellent book Garbageland:

Nationwide, landfills are the largest anthropogenic source of methane emissions, accounting for approximately 32 percent of total methane emissions in 2002.

But what accounts for another 22 percent of US methane emissions and about 19 percent globally? Enteric fermentation, or the process of digestion of carbohydrates in the forestomach of ruminants. Or, as Garbageland has it: “methane from oral and anal sphincters of cattle and other domestic ruminants.”

Or, to put it even more plainly: cow farts.