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44 7 The Art of Scavenging and Recycling The Man in the Box A twenty-yard open truck and a four-man crew serviced each of the 104 garbage routes in 1956. A person unfamiliar with the pro­ cess might assume that all four men collected the garbage and dumped it into the open truck. Actually, one of the four-man crew at any given time had to take a turn “in the box” (in the truck). The primary reason for this was that the garbage collector carried the garbage up the truck’s seven stairs and dumped the first load by leaning over and placing the carrying handle onto the front of the open box. The garbage would fall out by gravity, but eventually that area would fill up. To dump his carry barrel, the scavenger had to walk onto the garbage in front, lay down his barrel, and dump the garbage into the sloped void at the rear of the box. Once that person was there, one of the three men still out collecting garbage would show up and lay down his barrel. The man inside the truck would automatically drag in that container, dump it, and return it to the man who had just brought it up. In the interim, the man in the box shook all the paper bags in which the combined wastes were typically stored before putting it into the garbage can to be collected. During that shaking, all bottles , cans, metals, rags, nylon stockings, bras, girdles, and so forth would be thrown into one of the two stucco barrels. When a bunch of relatively clean newsprint was found by shaking the bags, it would also be put into the second stucco barrel. When either barrel was filled up, the man in the box would dump the contents in the cuverta, tie the four corners with the traditional square knots, and hang the cuverta off the hooks on the back doors of the truck. Since the early years, the company had always encouraged customers to set aside newsprint, tie it into bundles, and place the bundles alongside the garbage can on collection day. The scavenger , once he had his carrying can on his shoulder, would pick up the bundle and carry it to the truck, where racks were installed to store the newsprint. 45 The Art of Scavenging and Recycling During this process, aside from sorting and recovering rags, bottles , newsprint, and virtually every piece of cardboard/corrugated material found during the day’s collection, the man in the truck would also jump on the garbage in the truck to compact and create space inside for additional garbage. We facetiously referred to this process as “Italian Power.” In those days, hydraulic power did not exist to compact garbage. As the day went by and garbage filled up to the top of the truck’s steel body, we improvised a system that increased the capacity of the truck through a combination of sideboards and fences. The sideboards were two 4 x 8-feet pieces of ½-inch plywood panel with holes cut in them; they were hung inside of the box. As the garbage filled the inside of the body, the man in the truck would systematically pull up the plywood panels. They were eventually some three feet above the side of the truck and held in the garbage. The “fence” was a cardboard container that at one time housed a refrigerator. This cardboard was placed inside and around the back of the truck connected to the sideboards, and it was supported by four 2 x 4s, each eight feet long. By incorporating this bit of imagination, the crew was able to increase the hauling capa­ city of the truck by almost 70 percent. One might assume that this strategy was a mandate of the company as a means to increase capacity. On the contrary, it was the crew. On any given route, the work assignment was based upon revenue production. Some days any given route could make three loads instead of two, meaning more time on the job. By utilizing sideboards and fences, the day’s route was cut to two loads, which meant going home earlier. This part of the job was implemented from the very first day a scavenger operated on the streets of San Francisco. The primary reason was not to “Save the Earth’s Resources”—which is the cry today—but to subsidize the actual cost of providing garbage collection , because...


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