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Sherri Richards, Published August 23 2010

It's My Job: Curbside collector

Ryan Gramm puts about 160 miles on his truck each week, picking up blue recycling bins from Fargo homes.

Gramm has worked for the city of Fargo’s solid waste department for six years, driving a curbside recycling truck for the past two and a half.

“To me, this is the perfect job,” the Fargo native said.

He’s seen the city transition into its free curbside recycling program, which started last September, and has had a driver’s-seat view of more Fargo residents embracing curbside recycling.

The city collects on average 125 to 150 tons of plastic, metal, glass, cardboard and paper from residential streets each month, said Brady Brunsvold, recycling supervisor.

“It’s fun to see,” Gramm said. “You can look down a street and see a blue bin in every house.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see, if you think about it.”

What’s a typical day like for you?

I do residential collection, so we just run residential streets. There’s three curbside recycling trucks, so each one of us is responsible for covering two different routes throughout the day.

Pretty straightforward, collect the blue bins. It’s interesting, you’re outside. I worked in a warehouse before. This is so much nicer to be out and about.

How many houses do you collect from?

It depends on the day. Each truck is supposed to cover about 800 homes a day, but depending on the day of the week, the percentage changes. Certain days, we’re only at 40 percent (participation). Thursdays and Fridays, you get into the newer parts of town, we’re pushing 95 to 100 percent (participation). Those days, we’re probably collecting at least 600 per truck.

What do you learn about people from their recycling bins?

A little. You can tell the ones that are full of beer bottles. … There’s a house, I think they’re an art dealer or something, and they threw wine parties. And they’d have two 32-gallon garbage cans of wine bottles every two weeks. Their neighbor always came over, and he’d help me dump them, and he’d laugh and say he wished he was at their house.

Do people have trouble following the rules for curbside recycling?

At the beginning, there were a lot of things because there are only certain types of plastic we can take. The only big problem we’re having right now is if the bin is right next to the garbage can, if the garbage truck gets there first, the garbage truck can hit it. That’s the only big problem we still have.

We have tags we leave behind if something’s out of place. We were going through two pamphlets a day when we started. Now we’re probably going through a pamphlet a month. Everybody’s catching on, quicker than I anticipated, truthfully.

What do you think participation in recycling says about the city?

For the most part, the people I’ve talked to, honestly, they care. They want to do it. They like the idea of a lot less going into the landfill.

There was a lady in south Fargo. She ran a day care. She talked to me; we delivered some extra bins for her. Before automation, she had eight garbage cans a week. Now she has our smallest-sized garbage can, and I think she has 15 recycling bins. So she went from almost 300 gallons of garbage a week to 48 gallons a week. And her recycling volume obviously picked up the difference.

Do people tend to think of your job as “gross”?

I used to get that a lot. That’s why when anybody asks me what I do, I say equipment operator II.

I drove a garbage truck when I first started here, and you’d tell people that, and they back up 5 feet.

For the recycling, most of it’s rinsed. It’s a nice, clean, laid-back job. You don’t have to deal with the smells or anything.

What are other benefits of the job?

You get to see a lot of different areas. With recycling, it’s collected biweekly, so every week we’re in a different location each day.

You get to know certain people. There’s people that will come talk to us every time we’re there, and they’ll bring us a pop or a water sometimes.

Any downsides?

There’s probably five days a year, like today, I don’t like. The humid days I don’t like.

Are those hot days worse than December?

You can always put on more clothes. In the summertime, they get a little cranky if you take off too many.

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” e-mail businessnews@forumcomm.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556