Bins filled to the brim with trash awaited a pair of sanitation workers on a Dorchester street Thursday morning, but they couldn’t reach them.
It was a tight squeeze for the red and yellow Mack garbage truck that got stuck as the driver tried to creep through a maze of 6-foot snowbanks and vans parked on both sides of Bakersfield Street. The workers had to shovel the wheel of the truck out of the snow before they could move on.
“It’s crazy out here. It’s just ridiculous driving,” said the 48-year-old driver, Angelo Santostefano. “We are doing the best we can for the city and the residents out here in Dorchester. We just hope they can bear with us.”
With weeks of debilitating storms that covered the city in more than 100 inches of snow, trash collection has become a daunting mission. In some areas, garbage bins and dumpsters sit buried deep in snow, hidden behind colossal snowbanks or dangerously perched atop mounds of snow. Drivers must navigate icy roads with remarkable skill and precision to avoid damaging vehicles on the street.
When Santostefano’s truck got stuck in the towering snowbank, he flung the driver-side door open and stepped onto the top of it before sliding down just enough to reach the portion where the tire was imbedded. He kicked at chunks of partially frozen slush to free the wheel until his partner, Jose Andrade, arrived with a shovel. They shoveled the truck out and eventually managed to get down the street, while a supervisor trailed behind in a pickup truck ready to help out.
“This is my first time having this problem with the snow,” said Andrade, who has worked for 15 years as a so-called shaker, a term used for sanitation employees who work the backs of trash and recycling trucks. “People are parking almost in the middle of the street, and we’re beeping the horn and they never come out.”
Backhoes have been assigned to follow trash trucks to help chip away at the snowbanks that often seem to take over streets. In some cases, vehicles have been towed temporarily to allow trucks to pass and then returned to the original parking spaces.
And the workers hop out of their trucks to reach the frozen trash, they must negotiate poorly shoveled and unsalted driveways. “It’s a very challenging job,” Gerard Gorman, supervisor of waste production told the Globe Thursday during a ride-along. “They are human beings. It can take a toll.”
The city’s Waste and Reduction Division has 40 trash trucks with two workers per vehicle under a $22.3 million contract with two companies Capital Waste Management and Sunrise Scavenger, which both serve 60,000 households. Typically shifts range from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., Gorman said, but with this winter’s harsh weather has lengthened workdays by as long as four additional hours.“We always get to a street,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
This is the case despite a 10 percent drop in collections this month — 8,598 tons compared to nearly 9,500 tons during the same time last year, said Rob DeRosa, Boston’s superintendent of waste reduction, speculating that a drop in shopping and consumption during the storms was a factor, as well as trash barrels being hidden in the snow.
“People are putting the trash on 10-foot snowbanks,” said Santostefano, after struggling over a snowbank to get back into his truck. “We’re not going to climb up there and get hurt and fall down.”
Moments after leaving Bakersfield Street, his partner, Andrade, slid at least six bins down one snowbank on Sumner Street to get them closer to the garbage truck.
Meanwhile over on West Eighth Street in South Boston longtime sanitation worker Paul Stevenson raced past snowbanks to grab loaded bins.
“This is the toughest winter,” said Stevenson, 49, a 27-year veteran shaker. “We try to get everything. But if [the trash] is on top of a hill, it’s kind of tough. You sink all the way to your waist.”
Despite the adverse conditions, there have been no injuries on the job so far, said Gorman. Though, recently two sanitation workers were threatened by an angry, machete-wielding driver while gathering trash, he said.
As the workers are taxed by the situation, frustration has been rising in neighborhoods with refuse-ridden streets, where residents say trash has gone uncollected for weeks.
“There was a week or two when they missed the trash and it was piling up significantly,” said Anthony Burden, 23, who dragged a bin onto Sumner Street in Dorchester when he spotted a garbage truck rolling toward his house. “It’s kind of nerve-racking and I hope they can find a way to keep up with this.”
He said he had seen trash all over the neighborhood.
“I saw a diaper and some other disgusting stuff just in the middle of our street,” he said.
Typically, the department gets roughly 30 trash-related complaints daily, but when Gorman arrived to work Thursday at 6 a.m. he found 306 in the system. He said the city’s Waste and Reduction Division tries to address every complaint within 48 hours. But, Burden, said “you can’t really knock them because they’re doing the best they can do.”