As Camas grows, garbage collectors try to keep up

City discusses ways to ease overtime, maintain service levels

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Garry Reed, Camas sanitation lead, stands in front of his garbage truck on Oct. 22. Reed has been picking up trash in Camas for 25 years.

There’s a saying in sanitation: “Once a garbageman, always a garbageman.”

At least that’s what Garry Reed — a Camas garbageman of 25 years — claims.

One of four city employees on garbage pick-up duty in Camas, Reed is part of a group that operates on interlocking routes, covering every nook and cranny of the city. Reed has been on the job the longest, but two of his three coworkers are nearly as long-tenured.

As trash-collection technology develops and city councilors mull changes to the city’s sanitation department, Reed and his coworkers continue cleaning up Camas — one can at a time.

Reed, a longtime Washougal resident and father of five, doesn’t have much time to think about the greater scope of policy in the department. The four garbage truck drivers work five days a week, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m, and service roughly 7,300 customers in the city.

There aren’t any back-up employees, so if someone is on vacation or sick, the trash doesn’t go anywhere.

“We don’t have relief drivers. If somebody is out, we don’t have anybody replacing them,” Reed said.

As Camas’ population and housing development booms, the folks in sanitation have struggled to keep up. In July, the city floated reroutes and day changes for some residential and commercial garbage customers following a year-long review. The changes were set to handle growth, reduce overtime hours and maintain service levels.

“They’re kind of looking at the future: where the growth is going to be, where will be the best place to reroute,” Reed said. “The growth is getting to the point that we’re gonna have to start switching some days.”

City leaders tabled a discussion on the proposed changes until May 2019. Although they weren’t scrapped entirely, Reed said he would like to see those re-routes take place sooner rather than later.

“It would help absolutely. That way if someone was sick or on vacation, you’re not out there nine or 10 hours,” he said. “But you just buck up. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

Other Camas sanitation department changes may be closer to fruition. Recommendations on the agenda at the Oct. 15 council workshop included a new “snow-bird” rate for residents on a minimum 12-week hold and the continuation of every-other-week service, albeit at a rate increase of nearly $5 monthly. Discussion at the previous meeting had suggested that every-other-week service might disappear entirely.

Reed said he favors more options rather than fewer. He looks at his work as a service to the community, and thinks that things like every-other-week pick-up are important for citizens.

“I kinda like it. It’s a service. We’re out here to serve the public,” Reed said.

That sentiment was echoed throughout Reed’s route on a bright Monday morning in October. He said he hasn’t quite had the same intimacy with his customers since the city upgraded to trucks with indoor claw controls, but Reed still finds small gestures to connect: he waved happily at citizens, whether he seemed to recognize them or not. He gave a couple quick tugs of the truck horn to a mother and small child, whose tiny feet stood transfixed as he amazedly watched Reed and his claw lift cans.

“Kids love garbage trucks,” Reed said with a smile.

Some of Camas’ seniors are equally adoring, by his telling.

“I find the elderly couples are more apt to come out,” he said. “We got one gal, I’m sure at Halloween she’ll have her caramel apples and I tell you what, they’re the best.”

He tries to pay the town’s support back, keeping an eye out for garbage not taken to the curb on forgetful mornings.

“If I see your can, we’re gonna get it,” Reed said. “That’s part of being a community, is helping each other.”

His affection for residents and family makes sense when you know why Reed got into his line of work in the first place. Getting off in the early afternoon every day sounded appealing for a father of five.

“I got to spend a lot of time with my kids. I could pick them up from school, I could go to school functions, things like that. I have never ever missed an opportunity to go on school trips with them,” he said.

Likewise, Reed and his team share a sense of family too. He’s even on a first- name basis with his garbage collector in Washougal.

“That’s one thing about the sanitation department — guys will give you the shirt off their back,” he said.