Lead sorter: 7 years
Sharee Toliver-Hill works at Metro Central transfer station on what they call “the line.”
Whether it's a load of trash from a garbage truck or a load of trash from someone's basement clean-out, the stuff that comes to Metro’s garbage and recycling facility will make its way down a conveyor belt to be sorted and sent to its next destination. Landfill or someplace to be processed for reuse.
The line is a constant stream of demolition scraps, metal and cardboard. Toliver-Hill manages and trains the sorters who work it.
They pull as many recyclables off the line as they can and drop them into huge bins beneath the belt. Leftover garbage continues down the line to a compactor, and then to a truck, and ultimately to a landfill.
Toliver-Hill also is responsible for spotting hazardous waste – anything from pesticides to propane tanks – and removing it from the belt for safe disposal at the hazardous waste facility next to the transfer station. Typically, another worker will pull aside things like discarded refrigerators and air conditioners before they head down the line – those items in the garbage can leak Freon, putting workers at risk.
But they can get missed when people bring in portable storage units. "Think about how big they are," she says. "It's not as easy as you think to catch everything."
Hazardous waste shouldn't get tossed out with garbage because leaking freon and other chemicals put sorters, including Toliver-Hill, at risk.
We visited Toliver-Hill on the job to hear her thoughts about working the line.
Q: What’s something you like about your job?
A: The recycling part. Everything we pull out of there is not going to a landfill. And, you know, I’ve got grandkids. We want to try to clean everything up, you know, and not leave such a mess – that has been left to us.
Q: What’s something that’s not so great about your job?
A: Cleaning the pits. When they are loading the compactors and they are pushing the garbage onto the belts, a lot of it will fall down under the belt into a pit. So, we go down there and we shovel it out.
Q: Has your job made you think differently about garbage and recycling?
A: I never realized how much waste there is in this country. Seriously. It’s a throw-away society. I mean, we used to have T.V. repairmen. And now, you think, “Oh, it’s broken. Throw it away and go buy a new one.” No one actually thinks about where it’s going when you take it and throw it away. They don’t think about it.
Q: If you could change one thing about what we throw away, what would it be?
A: An awful lot of the stuff I see get thrown away should be donated. I mean we just had a whole load of clothes that was mixed in with some other stuff come up on the line. It should have all been taken, cleaned up, and donated instead of just being thrown away and wasted. That’s pretty sad.
Q: Tell us about one of the most memorable things you’ve seen come through here.
A: Portland’s definitely weird. (She laughs.) Once we had 50-60 dead skunks come through. It was not pleasant. For days after, all I could taste was skunk. Also, we get stuff from house clean-outs – when people die. I have seen family photos and letters from WWII. That’s really sad.