With 100 Inches Of Snow, Trash Removal A Struggle In Boston 

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Trash collectors work through a giant pile of garbage on Hemenway Street. (Simon Rios)
Trash collectors work through a giant pile of garbage on Hemenway Street. (Simon Rios)

As Boston slowly returns to normal following more than 100 inches of snowfall this winter — most of it in the last month — trash collectors are struggling to keep up with the waste.

Snowstorm after snowstorm have piled on the complaints from city residents. In the average month, the city gets in the area of 900 complaints about trash pickup. This month the city has received 4,600.

All the complaints go to Rob DeRosa, the city's waste reduction superintendent. DeRosa says the department has closed more than 90 percent of the cases.

"There was a lot of confusion with trash being delayed a day, so they would put the trash out on the wrong day and generate a complaint," DeRosa said. "But we will be addressing them all."

At $22 million, trash collection is one of the city's most costly efforts. Five days a week, 60,000 homes are serviced across the city.

This winter has already seen three trash pickup cancellations. It might not sound like a lot, but until this year there had been just four cancellations going back to 2003.

Every Neighborhood Has Its Challenges 

The trash collectors say every neighborhood has its challenges. But some are harder to deal with than others.

On trash day in the South End, Gerry Gorman, who supervises trash removal for the city, is maneuvering tight alleyways that crisscross the neighborhood in his F-150. Gorman negotiated with property managers to leave their trash at the end of alleyways. He says some of them take responsibility for their own waste — others leave it to the city.

Gorman drives his truck up one side street where a grocery truck is stuck in the snow, blocking a garbage truck. He radios for help, then heads to the end of the street.

"So you can see the challenges we already have," Gorman said. "Now I gotta drive down a one way with my flashers on to make sure nobody can get access to the street."

The trash guys get to work.

'It Could Be Worse'

It's a tough and dirty job, but Gorman says drivers make around $70,000 a year. Shakers, the ones who cling to the back of the truck, make about $50,000.

Leah Bergman lives off Hemenway Street. She says her recycling went a week without being picked up and points to the public trash receptacles overflowing around the city.

"I would give it a B plus," she said. "I mean I feel like with the way it's looked it's not that bad. I feel like it could be worse."

And it could. Thomas Henry, a shaker for six months, says he's able to get to most of the trash.

"It's brutal man. We've got 8-foot snow mounds, ya know? People won't shovel off their cars so it makes it difficult for us to collect the trash," Henry said. "So it's either you shovel your space or your trash gets left. I hate to do it that way, but that's the way it is."

Asked what message he has for the people of Boston, Henry was unequivocal.

"Shovel out your trash cans and we'll get it!"

This segment aired on February 27, 2015.

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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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