Homeless in Vancouver: Weekly war on garbage bogs down in Fairview

Once a week, white City of Vancouver garbage collection trucks whiz through each of the neighbourhoods.

These aren’t the garbage trucks of my childhood, with one or two city workers standing on the bumper, ready to jump off and swamp the contents of metal garbage cans into the gaping maw of the compactor.

There are still some of those older kind of garbage trucks and the big sanitation workers to go with them, but they only come out on special occasions such as “pick up mattresses and big-screen TVs day”, which seem to be arbitrarily observed by the city.

Otherwise, the comforting cacophony of clanging steel cans and workers working has been replaced by the monotonous drone of a speeding garbage truck mechanically wrangling plastic garbage bins, broken only occasionally by the cursing of a driver forced off their tight schedule by circumstances—or a parked car.

City waste collectors don’t waste time

Today the city uses single-operator garbage trucks called Sterling Condors, which have the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the cab and collect garbage out of grey plastic wheelie bins by means of a mechanical lobster-claw affair called a Pendpac Alleygator, also on the right side of the truck.

The driver stops beside each grey plastic garbage bin, “grabs” it with the hydraulic-powered claw, and upends the bin into the truck’s top-loading hopper.

The trucks can only collect one side of an alley at a time and the driver has to go through each alley in both directions to collect both sides.

Residents are instructed how and where to position their grey bin in the alley but even so, the city’s collection truck drivers are remarkably good at judging the right stopping point to be able to properly grab each grey bin, and within the constraints of constantly having to stop-and-start they go at it as quickly as they possibly can.

There isn’t quite the same need to be gentle with the grey bins once they’re empty and some drivers can really make those bins bounce on the way down.

The city uses specialized collection vehicles for garbage, recycling, food scraps, and yard waste. On an area’s collection day, the whole mechanized army of collection vehicles sweeps through the alleys in waves. My understanding is the entire fleet is tightly coordinated using, among other things, GPS. So, for instance, trucks that finish their routes first can be redirected to pick up the slack elsewhere in the collection zone.

Like the Pendpac Alleygator trucks, the city’s huge TopSelect recycling trucks are now sold by Labrie Equipment, which appears to have taken over Pendpac sometime since the City of Vancouver introduced home and apartment recycling in the late 1990s.

Density means delays

Needless to say, the collection truck drivers do not dally. While the recycling collection truck operators have to get out of their trucks to manually dump the blue boxes or put the blue bins on the lift hooks, the garbage truck operators properly never leave their cabs.

I’ve never seen them have to in the areas dominated by single family homes, but when the trucks hit the densely packed neighbourhoods of multi-unit buildings, I’m sure it’s often a different story.

All garbage collection vehicles—city and private—can struggle to make headway in the car-congested back alleys of the Fairview neighbourhood, especially early in the A.M. when a maximum number of cars are parked higgledy-piggledy. And what fun it must be for garbage truck drivers when so many of the residents get into those parked cars to go to work at roughly the same time on weekday mornings.

Canada Day puts the squeeze on trash collection

A city garbage truck trying to squeeze into a Fairview alley off Hemlock Street.
Stanley Q. Woodvine

This morning, I watched a City of Vancouver garbage truck operator stopped at the mouth of the alley on the east side of Hemlock between 10th and 11th Avenue.

The driver had no choice. He wasn’t actually stuck, but he needed to get out of his truck and move all the city grey garbage bins immediately ahead of his truck from the north side to the south side of the alley so he could get around the small car parked on the south side of the mouth of the alley.

He was being stymied in his attempt to stay on schedule by more than just the relaxed attitude towards parking in the Fairview alleys.

Because of the Canada Day holiday on Tuesday (July 1), major public and private bin collection just happened to coincide in the better part of Fairview today.

That meant building managers had to pull both their wheeled grey and blue bins out into the lanes—so the city could collect the garbage out of the grey bins and a private garbage company contracted by the city could empty the blue recycling bins.

The city’s collection dates march across the calendar through the year, pushed forward a day each time there is a statutory holiday.

Until August, the city garbage trucks will now pick up in parts of Kitsilano, Fairview, and South Cambie on Thursdays.

The private collection of recycling blue bins in the bulk of Fairview, between the streets Granville and Oak and the avenues Broadway to 16th, is fixed to Wednesdays except the week of a stat holiday when the whole private schedule for the remainder of the week following the holiday is temporarily bumped forward a day.

Meaning for today the Fairview area getting recycling pickup also enjoyed city garbage pickup, not to mention all the regular private pickup of Dumpsters.

So—bottom line—I had to hurry up and wait behind a slew of different garbage trucks this morning on my way to breakfast.

But I didn’t get annoyed. It wasn’t the fault of the trucks—they were being delayed by each other also—and anyway, it would have been a waste of my time. 

Time for sightseeing this morning. Garbage truck drivers aren’t fond of picture taking.
Stanley Q. Woodvine
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Frank
I was almost run over in a cross walk by s city garbage truck careening around a corner. Public safety seemed to be the least of their concerns.
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