Mike Schultz has job security. He takes something no one wants — garbage. Schultz is a one-man packer driver with the city of Clinton. In other words, he is your friendly garbage man who picks up your trash by the curb.

Clinton has three garbage routes a day; routes run Monday through Friday with the exception of holidays. The routes are divided into five sections. Drivers start with the southern part of town and work themselves north over the course of the week.

Schultz’s day starts around 7 a.m. at the Water Pollution Control Plant, where he hops in his truck and heads out to pick up solid waste. After picking up his load, he drops it off at the Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency.

With his truck empty and ready to go, he goes back to the same route and collects bags of compost. Quitting time varies depending on the amount of garbage and compost there is for a day. For the sake of consistency, drivers have the same route except for vacations and then others in the plant or street department take over.

According to Eric Van Lancker, assistant superintendent of collection systems, Schultz averages 8,193 pounds of solid waste collected each day. When it comes to compost, Van Lancker said Schultz averages 1,116 pounds a day.

Schultz’s office is a large, roomy cab equipped with two steering wheels and a low-flying bird’s-eye view of Clinton. What is he doing with two steering wheels?

Well, he starts out driving on the left side of the truck until he gets to his route and then switches his base of operation to the other steering wheel on the right. This allows him to grab bags more easily and efficiently from the curb. There is no seat, but Schultz constantly is on the move in and out the truck, discarding residents’ waste.

There are safety precautions Schultz and other drivers have to follow daily. Van Lancker said drivers are not to lift bags that weigh more than 40 pounds. When they are too heavy, drivers must place a neon green tag on the bag and mark it too heavy for pick up.

Body parts subject to common injuries related to the job, Van Lancker said, include shoulders, the lower back, elbows, knees and ankles. With employee injuries, worker’s compensation premiums and insurance claims go up. Van Lancker said he believes one of the ways to alleviate the problem would be to utilize automated trucks with robotic arms.

The city would issue garbage cans to each property, and the cans would be tailored to work with the trucks’ robotic arms. Instead of hauling plastic bags to the curb, the cans could be wheeled out each week.

“This would keep our workers healthy and help out the bottom line,” Van Lancker said.

Schultz echoes Van Lancker’s belief in the automated system to alleviate pesky aches and pains.

“It would make the job a lot easier. We all have aches and pains — shoulders, knees and backs — from repetitiveness. This would be better for the people too. They wouldn’t have to put on stickers any more and bags wouldn’t get torn up by animals at night.”

Other hazards Schultz and other drivers have encountered include needles and broken glass. Schultz said some homeowners are kind enough to put a special note on the bag warning drivers of the contents and others simply do nothing. Schultz also said some homeowners pour bleach on their garbage bags to prevent animals from getting inside, which also causes problems for drivers.

“It wrecks our clothing, gets on our hands and splatters in our face,” he said.

According to Schultz, drivers share one unique and common bond. They hate kitty litter. Schultz said the kitty litter sits in the bottom bag and is transformed into a kitty litter ball when the bag is thrown.

“The bag goes one way and the litter another. It breaks through the bag and falls between the curb and truck,” he said.

Just like postal workers, drivers are exposed to all of the elements from sultry summer days to frigid temperatures and snow in the wintertime. With the back of the truck’s engine sitting in the cab, temperatures are 5 to 10 degrees warmer inside than out. During the winter, snow escapes through the collapsible door in the cab and whirls down by drivers’ feet.

Schultz has a wish list of things Clinton residents could do to make his life easier. One would be to have their garbage out by 7 a.m. If they forget, Schultz said residents still should put it out on the other side of the street or alley when he comes by again that same day for compost.

Another would be to watch the weight and size of their bags. In the winter, he said, stickers need to be applied in a wraparound fashion so the adhesive side is back-to-back. If the stickers are placed directly on the bags, there is a greater chance of them falling off and the garbage not being collected at all.

When asked if he has seen anything out the ordinary, Schultz shakes his head no. He said there have been mice and snakes in bags. He also was surprised to hear music coming from a bag. Someone, he said, threw away a radio and when it hit the inside of his truck, it started to play. He said there was an instance where one of the bags started smoking from ashes that had not been extinguished all the way.

“I had one guy who threw out money and new tennis shoes, but for the most part it’s just garbage,” he said.

One of the perks of his job is being outside. Schultz said he loves the outdoors and enjoys hunting and fishing.

“I don’t mind being by myself,” he said. “I know how long it takes me to get my work done. If I’m sore and want to start out slow, I can make the time up later. I can also listen to whatever radio station I want.”

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