Green for Life employees work hard and fast in the collection of garbage and recycling across Brunswick County.
I told my neighbor one night recently that if she saw me outside with my camera at the crack of dawn the next day, it’s because I’m doing a feature story on the great folks who collect our garbage and recycling every week.
“Oh, so I shouldn’t worry some crackpot photographer is on the loose?” she asked. (You gotta love a wisenheimer!) “They really work hard,” she said. “I can’t imagine how many miles they walk, and calories they burn every day.” “I’ll find out tomorrow and let you know,” I promised.
Having arranged this moving interview and photo-shoot ahead of time, Green For Life driver Kenneth Lawson gives me a heads-up that he’ll be in my Ocean Isle Beach neighborhood around 10 am. Green for Life Environmental (GFL) is the new name for Waste Industries.
When Lawson and teammate Eugene Gaskin of Ashe are on their way, detained by a few dozen unsavory pick-ups before stopping for my mean green cart in Ocean Isle, I am as excited as if I am waiting for a parade. And since parades are pretty much always on the move, I’m also getting anxious. As I’m planning to run alongside the truck, how in the world am I going to interview, photograph and keep up with these guys without coronary arrest? I soon discover that when trash carts are far apart, the truck will always get to them faster than I can catch up by running. My fear is the guys will get so far ahead, the interview will be over before it begins.
The men had already been up and on the job for hours. Gaskin, with a longer commute than his partner, rises at 3:45 am. Lawson kicks off the blankets at the much cozier hour of 4:10 am, and arrives at work just after 5.
When they get to me, the sky is light enough that I don’t need to use a flash on my camera. With a stop-action setting and burst mode, my camera gets going capturing these athletes in motion. Gaskin hops aboard a traveler’s ledge at the back of the vehicle and grabs the safety handle. Lawson surges the behemoth truck forward. Garbage carts ahead!
Lawson quick-stops and brakes, then jumps out toward a cart. Gaksin follows suit from the rear. Both wheel their prey to the jaws of the beast and angle the cans forward. For safety, all trucks have “tippers,” so employees don’t have to lift the carts. The mechanical “teeth” clamp onto the carts and flip them topsy-turvy. Out comes the junk. The giant mouth swallows the rubbish and spits out the cans. Delicious.
The guys grab and run the cans back to the curb, resume their trucking positions and head down the road. I am running as fast as I can to their next stop. They do this again and again and again — on average 10.5 hours and 85 miles a day and up to six days a week at the beaches during max tourist season.
Green for Life Operations Manager Joe McCarthy says each of his one-and two-person crews in Brunswick County hauls on average as many as 1,000 trash carts every day. Each one weighs about 75 pounds. McCarthy says there are also one-person crews in which the driver operates an automatic truck. They roll it to the curb, and robotic arms grab the cart and hoist it into the air, dumping the load from above. I say “one-person” and not “one man,” because McCarthy assures that GFL is an equal opportunity employer, “and we have a diverse group of employees working at all times.”
Anyway, it seems obvious the one-person crew does not burn many calories. But what about the two-person teams? I promised my neighbor an answer. Lawson, who has four and a half years of service, says it this way: “I absolutely definitely can eat everything I want and never put on a pound.” Gaskin tells Lawson to speak for himself. He will only say he has been with the company “a long time.” And as a man a bit more senior, he is not so sure he can eat everything and anything anymore, even as hard as he works all day. They both agree, though, the job keeps them fit and strong.
But a person doesn’t have to be big and strong to serve on a crew, McCarthy says. It’s all about rolling, tipping and angling rather than lifting, “and we have employees of all body shapes and sizes.” He adds, “We have a number of long-term employees, including some who have reached the 20- and 30-year marks.”
And you might think the last thing these active employees would want is a fitness membership; however, McCarthy says, believe it or not, some of the employees do go to the gym. Can you imagine working this hard and then lifting weights later for fun? He also notes that GFL encourages and coaches its employees to eat healthful calories instead of fatty foods and to stay hydrated day and night.
The summer of 2019 was one of the hottest in recorded history. And there is potential for slippery roads this winter. I ask how the crews withstand these conditions.
“If it feels like 110 degrees, you’re going to burn some calories,” McCarthy says. “We provide plenty of water and sports drinks, and we encourage drinking one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes in high heat conditions and sports drinks at the end of the day to replenish electrolytes. Employees know to take more breaks as necessary during excessive heat and/or get into the air-conditioned cabs. If conditions are too icy, we make the determination to suspend services.”
While there are Brunswick residents who think GFL is a county service, McCarthy clarifies that the company is privately owned. Waste Industries recently merged with Green For Life and will soon re-brand its trucks with GFL’s bright green colors. McCarthy says GFL offers a competitive salary and benefits program, which includes health and dental care and 401K options. The company website displays a litany of employee benefits, including life and disability insurance, paid time off and holidays, tuition reimbursement and more.
Lawson says he enjoys the work, the pay and benefits. He also is pleased with the sports drinks and the clean washed uniforms the company provides the crews every week. He’s particularly okay with the bonus pay treatment the teams receive for working Saturdays.
I ask if there is anything customers can do to make their jobs easier. They both offer a wish-list:
• Please have your trash out on the curb on time.
• Please bag your trash because loose stuff blows onto the roads in windy conditions.
• If you are driving behind the truck, please pay attention and be patient, because trying to pass on blind curves is dangerous for all involved.
• And thank you for the business!