Stinky Business: Waukesha Recycling Collector Spills All
The man who picks up Waukesha’s leftovers shares his story about the coolest neighbors and the craziest things he’s seen in the trash. And for the record, mailmen aren't the only workers targeted by canines.
Like clockwork, Kerry Landers has been picking up Waukesha's leftovers every Tuesday and Friday for almost six years, and interacting with nearly every city resident tends to be pretty interesting work.
The 52-year-old Lake Country native attended Arrowhead High School in Hartland before working at Waukesha Rubber Co. for almost 30 years. When the company was purchased and relocated out of state, Landers found a job at Veolia Environmental Services in Hartland.
And that’s where the adventure begins.
Besides the blisteringly hot summer afternoons and the bitterly cold winter blizzards, Landers says he truly enjoys the job. However, he says it’s the people that take the chill out of trudging through to snow to snag recyclables.
“Our customers are the best part,” Landers said. “We have a guy who lives in Prides Crossing (in Sussex), and when it was really hot this summer, he left a cooler with a sign reading, ‘Please take water!’ People do cool stuff like that. In Waukesha I have a guy that comes out with two cans of soda in the summer time and a cup of hot chocolate in the winter. That’s the cool part about all this.”
Not everything is always that cool, though. While Landers focuses on residents’ recyclable waste, he says with a laugh, “I’m not young anymore,” and leaves the real garbage to a younger group of men. Between the dog waste and dead animals, Landers says life's much easier as a recycler.
"The first time residents get a ticket for not having their dog under control. The second time they have to have their dog put down.”
Just because he doesn’t pick up the nastiest trash bins doesn’t mean Landers is riding on Easy Street. According to the recycler, the most frustrating part of his job is when people simply don’t separate their recyclables. Landers says that becomes his job, taking more time and eventually becoming a trickle-down cost.
Although mailmen are the stereotypical target of the family 'guard' dog, Landers has had his own scrapes with household canine companions.
“Another thing is, everyone loves their dogs, but when the garbage guys come, we’re in big trucks, we're strangers, we move fast and dogs get scared,” Landers said. “We get bit. We had a guy get bit two weeks ago that needed to go to the hospital. We’re bit more than post office employees. And the sad part is, it’s not the dog’s fault. The first time residents get a ticket for not having their dog under control. The second time they have to have their dog put down.”
And for the record, Veolia can’t take electronics like televisions or microwaves, garbage men can’t walk on your private property to pick up blowing trash, and the trucks aren’t allowed to drive more than 20 miles per hour between pickups.
Therefore, honking at the driver and yelling about trash on your lawn isn’t going to help.
“People get a little impatient with us,” Landers said. “People ride our rears, and it’s irritating when people are blowing their horn at us. I’m just trying to do my job.”
“It’s kind of amazing in some of the rich subdivisions to see the things they throw out. Like, ‘Wow! You’re throwing that out? It’s brand new!’"
While doing his job, Landers has come across some pretty interesting items. Of all the communities he covers – which includes Waukesha, Merton, Sussex, and Dousman – Landers says Sussex is by far the best at recycling.
And what residents toss can really say something about the type of people that live in that community. For example, with the new Costco in Pewaukee, Landers says he knows exactly what’s on sale just by counting the number of boxes.
“It’s kind of amazing in some of the rich subdivisions to see the things they throw out," Landers said. "Like, ‘Wow! You’re throwing that out? It’s brand new!’ I had a guy throw out a fishing rod – a Shakespeare Ugly Stik, rod and reel. It looked brand new. People toss beautiful golf clubs, brand new gun cases.”
Veolia has a policy against employees scavenging things during work, so finding trashed gems is a bit frustrating, but Landers still insists the people make his job great.
“People don’t realize we watching over the community,” Landers said. “We’re out there every day... When people come out and talk to you, a little gift like water – you don’t know how much that’s appreciated. When someone comes out to thank me, that’s really cool.”