The not-so-glamorous life at the curb isn’t the end of the line for the mountains of trash accumulated each year after Christmas. It’s just the beginning for the men and women who have to haul it all away.
It’s a short-lived moment of fame.
One day the brightly-colored wrapping paper, bows, ribbons and decorated boxes are the center of attention. The next day, those same festive accessories are sharing space in a garbage can, mingling with bits of gristly ham and unopened fruit cakes.
That’s the way it goes for these supporting actors of the holiday season.
But the not-so-glamorous life at the curb isn’t the end of the line for the mountains of trash accumulated each year after Christmas. It’s just the beginning for the men and women who have to haul it all away.
"Where we would normally have one or two cans at every location, you can expect one or two cans and plenty of bags and boxes behind it," said Dave Schaab, a manager with Waste Management in Peoria.
That added Christmas refuse doubles the volume of trash collectors normally pick up. The weight, though, only goes up slightly. That’s because paper products, Styrofoam and cardboard are very light but take up a lot of space inside garbage trucks, which also means more trips to the landfill.
Aside from the common Christmas items, Schaab said garbage collectors see everything from the humorous to the bizarre in the contents of the can. "You can tell where the good cooks and the bad cooks are," he said.
"Thousands and thousands of turkey carcasses," are loaded up each year as well as carp and even goat heads, he said.
"There’s nothing like opening a can and having it look back at you," Schaab said.
The biggest problem with the holiday season is boxes, said Dean Hohimer, a foreman with Pekin’s solid waste management department.
Not only do the empty boxes take up truck space if they’re not folded flat, people tend to fill them with trash and set them on wet, snowy sidewalks, he said. When garbage collectors pick up a soggy container, it splits open like a cruel piñata.
Ron Morris is a landscape waste collector in Pekin. He and others help garbage collectors round up the Christmas waste each year. "If we didn’t help, the guys would probably add three to four hours (onto their shifts)" he said.
Waste management departments across the area are encouraging residents to recycle as much as they can and to reuse things they don’t have to throw away.
Ric Semonski, East Peoria supervisor of streets, also hopes residents remember the collectors, who sometimes have a thankless job.
"There’s a human connection with the garbage and how it gets picked up," he said. "Don’t forget about the one who has to do it. They’ve got a hard job."
For Pekin resident Lynn Zentko, seeing the large amounts of holiday residue drive away from her house in the back of the garbage truck was a welcome sight.
"We probably put out, I would say, 100 percent more (trash)" said Zentko, who had 22 people at her house for Christmas.
And after all the months of shopping, wrapping and gift exchanging, watching it all go signaled a somewhat anti-climatic end to another Christmas season.
"It’s all done and over with," Zentko said. "As much as I like Christmas, it’s done. It’s finally done."
Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or email@example.com.