MOUNT DESERT—When it comes to essential personnel, trash collectors may be overlooked. But if they stayed home in a pandemic, the rest of us would notice pretty quickly.
“It is what it is,” said Ryan Dunbar of Mount Desert public works, when asked what it’s like to haul trash in the time of COVID-19. “We’ve got to get it done.”
Dunbar works in a two-person team that hauls trash from the ends of Mount Desert residents’ driveways. Roadside garbage pickup has been offered by the town for years.
Until recently, the town also had dumpsters on Sargent Drive and Sea Street that residents could use. These have been removed, Dunbar explained, to encourage people to stay home.
As a result of this, and with summer residents arriving earlier than normal, Dunbar noted, business has been brisk.
“They’re coming from all the states right now,” said Public Works Superintendent Ben Jacobs, of summer residents. “We get three to six calls each week. People are coming up much sooner than they used to.”
Dunbar and his co-worker Gabe Lunt use face masks and puncture-proof gloves while collecting garbage to protect them from coming in contact with any virus.
The men also drive the route in different trucks instead of sharing close quarters in the cab of the garbage truck. Dunbar drives the garbage truck and Lunt follows in a pickup truck.
Another recent change to the way trash is collected has nothing to do with the virus. The town adopted a “one bin all in” method in January. “We take recycling now,” said Jacobs.
“People put recycling in trash, and it’s sorted out at Fibreright,” the processing plant in Hampden. “You actually end up recycling more.”
Town employees used to use a second garbage truck to pick up cardboard separately. “Now everything goes in one truck, which saves diesel,” Jacobs noted.
When asked what was the craziest thing he’s seen thrown out in the trash, Dunbar answered, “We’ve seen it all.”
When the town had a dumpster on Sea Street, Dunbar said, someone threw away the whole rear end of a car. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve seen,” he said.
Gott’s Disposal is a private company that offers trash pickup for residents and businesses. According to Roy Blenkhorn, a roll-off truck driver for the company, his services are in high demand. “Basically, it exploded for me,” he said.
Blenkhorn hauls large open-top containers used in demolition or large clean-up projects. “There’s a lot more demand with people being home,” he said. “They’re bored.”
The other side of the business, trash collecting, is down, he said. With businesses closed, they do not require trash pickup service.
Blenkhorn said he has around 200 customers, and is adding more. He meets the increased demand by working 10-hour days.
“The biggest difficulty is being out on the road and finding a place to get food or use a restroom,” he said. His truck is too big to make it through a drive-through business, he said, so he must find walk-in businesses that are open.