Taking Out the Trash with Wes Doner

By Joe Flaherty

Wes Doner climbs into the driver’s seat of the truck and pulls on a pair of plastic gloves. “Are you guys ready?” he asks with a grin. It’s 12:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon  and Doner, a waste and recycling handler with facilities services, is about to start the third leg of his daily route collecting garbage from around campus.

The massive vehicle revs its engines and throttles up the hill from the Recycling Center. “We’ve got to hit Hillcrest Road, grab all the bags on toss them on the truck,” Doner said.

Doner has worked for the College for four years but this is his first week as Recycling Handler.

“Before, I was a floater and before I was a floater I was on crew, so I used to clean carpets and buff floors,” he said.

The first stop is behind Proctor Dining Hall, where a garbage truck is lifting bins of food waste into the back of the truck using a mechanized arm.  Mounds of uneaten food pour from the upside-down containers into the truck, en route to be turned into compost.

Around the corner at Stewart Hall is the visible sign of student waste, with around 30 plastic bags piled at the corner. According to Doner, today’s amount of garbage is typical.

“If it’s real nasty then we’ll toss it but if it’s alright we’ll go through it a little bit,” Doner said, referring to the sorting that happens at the Recycling Center.  A CD with “Mumford & Sons” written on it in Sharpie is visible in one of the garbage bags before Doner grabs it and tosses it in the truck.

Grabbing several bags at a time and throwing them into the truck, Doner said, “One thing that frustrates me is a lot of them aren’t tied and we have to tie them.”

Dorms like Stewart generate much of the garbage Doner takes down the hill in the truck.  When asked which dorms are the biggest garbage-generators, Doner responds, “Battell and Allen (because they are together), or over in Atwater.”

At the Davis Family Library, Doner pulls around to the back and opens a sliding garage door. Although the Library is not a site one would think of as generating heaps of trash, Doner immediately begins hauling bags filled with Coke cans into the truck. A cardboard box filled with dirty dishes and cups sits on the ground next to the containers.

“We’ll gather them up after a while and bring them back to the dining hall,”  Doner said.

Some of the plastic bags Doner is loading into the truck are practically bursting with the refuse of studious individuals. The truck is already almost a third full of plastic bags.  Doner says the truck — the size of two minivans — can sometimes get completely filled with garbage bags.

“Some Mondays it can get like that. We just open it up and start grabbing and then get up into the truck,” he said.

Doner, who used to box at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Connecticut, goes after the garbage bags with the same tenacity as a prizefighter in the ring.  The nature of Doner’s job is it can never be completely finished — every day, more trash fills the containers in dorms and academic buildings, and in turn ends up on the corner for him to grab. When asked if it gets frustrating, Doner is nonplussed.

“I just go with the flow – it’s work, you know,” he says.

Most of the time Doner unloads all the bags himself, as he was doing on Friday. He says he would not have it any other way.

“Usually I would rather do it myself anyways so I can get it done and get back on the route again,” he said.

Doner is no slouch when it comes to completing the route. “We usually have break about two o’ clock but I don’t take break; I just go back there and unload and go back out,” he says.

Mondays bring a titanic amount of garbage to pick up, Doner said, but that Friday presents it own challenges.

“Friday I have to make sure I get everything” he said. “we can’t leave anything out over the weekend.”

The route seems like it should take two people; Doner single-handedly drives the truck, parks it, jumps out, opens whatever gate is in the way, grabs the bags and hurls them into the truck.

Glancing into some of the bags by Meeker, Doner explains one of his frustrations with the job.

“There is one thing that gets me. When the students don’t take the time to throw the can into the recycling bin, when they throw it right in the garbage, that pretty much sucks right there,” said Doner.  “Some days it is mixed and it gets the guys at the Recycling Center a little aggravated.  And it’s hard for me to sort it and it’s frustrating.”

Melissa Beckwith, assistant director of support services in facilities services, dispelled the fustrating myth about Waste Management.

“One thing we hear frequently is, ‘Well, we don’t have to sort it because they’re going to sort it.’ That’s totally the wrong attitude. We would like people to sort it so we don’t have to because it makes the whole system much more efficient.”

When asked if the lack of sorting happens a lot, Doner said some stops are worse than others.

“I usually throw the garbage on the right side of the truck, and when I get down there I’ll look through to make sure there isn’t spaghetti sauce all over or something,” he said.

Doner has his share of horror stories – finding bottles filled with urine is not out of the question, he says incredulously.

“Come on, are students too lazy to go to the bathroom?” he asks.

While there were no encounters with wildlife on Friday, Doner has had to tangle with squirrels hoping to access the garbage.

“There was sometimes when I’ve had to move a bag around so they can get out. But now they’ll hear the truck and get right out of there,” he said.

The nature of the work at the Recycling Center can be constant. In 2012, Waste Management processed 2,485,000 pounds of recycling, compost, universal wastes and hazardous waste.

“If you empty a couple carts, within an hour they’re full again,” Beckwith said. “It’s kind of like the research paper you can never finish.”