EATON — Among Preble County’s essential workers, who still have to report to work despite closures prompted by the threat of Covid-19, is trash collector Eddie Lang. Lang has been driving a garbage truck in Eaton five days a week for the last four years, and said that working for Cincinnati-based Rumpke Waste and Recycling is not quite like any other job he’s had.
“The best part about the job for me is the bosses,” Lang said. “I’ve never had a job where I wasn’t just a number, and I’ve never had a boss like Steve Rumpke before. I see him at work every day, and he knows everybody by name. It’s more like a family environment than just clocking in and clocking out.”
Rumpke trained him to get his Class B Commercial Driver’s License, according to Lang. Lang also enjoys the flexibility the job gives him to work at his own pace and set his own hours.
“You get paid for eight hours no matter what,” Lang said. “So you can run your butt off and get it done in five, or you can take your time.”
Lang, who lives in Union City, said he typically arrives for work at about a quarter after four in the morning, sets out in his truck at about five, and starts picking up trash on his route at around 6 a.m. Lang’s route includes about 500 stops around Eaton each day.
“And every day is pretty much bulk, so whatever people set out, we pick it up,” Lang said, specifying that large items like mattresses, box springs and other furniture should be wrapped in plastic before being dragged out to the curb.
The job has its unpleasant aspects, according to Lang, including coming in contact with unsavory smells.
“Sometimes you go through areas where you’d think people have been scooping stuff out of the sewer mains,” Lang said. “And I’ve picked up couches where you can still smell the cat pee even through the plastic.”
Reckless drivers are also a frequent issue, according to Lang, and can pose a real life-and-death danger to trash collectors working near their trucks in the early-morning hours.
“People say, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you!’” Lang said. “But the trucks have got big flashing lights all over them – if you can’t see that, you shouldn’t be driving.”
The danger prompted Rumpke to launch a public awareness campaign called ‘Slow Down to Get Around’ to encourage drivers to keep their own safety, as well as that of Rumpke employees, in mind.
“It should be similar to passing a school bus,” Lang said. “We want to get home just like you want your kids to come home.”
Lang’s job also involves uncomfortable encounters with residents.
“You see some strange characters,” Lang said. “The biggest thing is drugs, which are a problem everywhere. They want to follow you around on your route, talk to you, be your friend. And you don’t want to be rude, but you have to keep them away from the truck.”
“You’ll be at one stop and they’ll talk your ear off and not want to let you leave,” Lang said. “Then you go to the next stop and they ride their bikes over there.”
Dangers specific to the age of Covid-19 include loose tissues that can blow around and expose trash workers to the virus if not bagged and secured properly, as well as syringes and other medical instruments not surrounded by rigid plastic and marked “sharp.”
Rumpke also recommends placing garbage out by the curb the night before pick-up and wiping down cans after putting them out to help prevent potential spread, as well as making sure inappropriate items like used tissues, paper towels, and paper cups which could carry germs are not placed in recycling bins.
Customers are also encouraged to avoid setting out wet latex paint and flammable items like batteries that can potentially start fires inside the trucks.
Lang stressed that many of his encounters with customers are quite pleasant, however, including kids who write encouraging messages in chalk on their driveways.
“Just yesterday I had a woman leave me a whole care package: gatorade, cookies, toilet paper, paper towels,” Lang said.
Rumpke Communications Manager Molly Yeager stressed the importance of the job Lang and his coworkers perform.
“Their job is vital for public health. They’re performing an essential service,” Yeager said. “And we need to protect them while they do it.”