Rats & Recycling MRFs

Rats & Recycling MRFs

It’s March…the snowiest month of the winter and we sure have had a few storms here in Boulder County this month! Snow is wonderful, I ski patrol so I really love seeing it up at ski areas, but honestly – trying to get up driveways or inside buildings when there is over a foot of snow on the ground makes recycling extremely difficult and dangerous.

Last Wednesday, March 23rd, I grounded all routes due to the blizzard that socked in all of the Front Range and caused all schools, financial institutions and government buildings to close. It was a gut call, but I made it at 5am before my earliest driver, Israel, headed out to Fort Collins on his route that day. I’m glad I did – It just snowed and snowed and snowed…not to mention the wind.

What does that do to a recycling service or any delivery/pickup service? It forces you to move pickups out a day at least and with this last storm – two days out because the snow was so heavy and wet, it took clean-up crews even longer to get snow out of alleys and out of parking lots.

YES…it stresses me out because we have to call or email hundreds of customers, change the voicemail to reflect re-routing changes and ultimately end up not getting every single pickup done in that week. I like staying on schedule – can you tell?

Due to having to recycle way into the weekend playing catch-up from the long week of re-routing customers, I had to unload a mountain recycling truck very late at the Boulder County Recycling Center. Thankfully I just made it through the gate before the mechanics that work in that facility at night closed the doors.

It felt weird being at the MRF without other trucks and a line up waiting for the front-end-loader to wave me into the facility. There was this stillness and calm at the recycling MRF, a settling of the day that I’ve experienced at our warehouse, but never at the big recycling facility out on 63rd and Arapahoe in Boulder County. Picture that twilight hour where everything starts to turn pink and you know there is barely any time left to enjoy daylight. The time where pictures turn out perfect and people wake-up into their nightlife.

I backed into Bay #3 that handles the Single-Stream mix. Jumping out of the truck I went to untie the back gate and only then noticed my husband Matt had not shoveled off a layer of snow on top of our recycling tarp. I scrounged around for a shovel and finally with the help of a late night mechanic found one to aid me in getting the tarp unstuck from the top of our 4×4 hydraulically tipping 10’ truck bed. I crawled up on the tarp and shoveled the snow off, never have I been more relieved a truck wasn’t beeping at my to hurry up. I was glad I finally got the tarp un-frozen and off our recycling load all by myself. (Being a light-weight girl has it advantages and challenges).

When I jumped down to untie the back, I swear I saw movement under the enormous pile of recycling to my left. I stopped and looked for a minute and thought I was seeing things…then I saw it again.. a HUGE rat jumping through the recycling pile. He was scavenging throughout the pile moving at lightning speed to stop, look at me and take off again. Remember – it’s getting dark.

I tipped the recycling out the back of the truck and turned the truck off to re-tie the tarp and close the back doors. When I was tying the back tarp down on both sides of the truck- I once again saw that huge rat running up closer to where I was standing. He looked up at me, tipped his nose up and smelled the air, turned around and ran back into the recycling. I definitely had a moment where I felt completely out of place in this nightlife MRF scene.

Walking around to the other side of the truck, I looked over to the big conveyor belt that pulls massive amounts of recycling up into the sorting facility and saw a group of rats running up the line. I froze. How many rats where in this building at night? I was about to find out.

The lead mechanic who allowed me in to be the last truck to dump recycling for the night came over to check on me and ask if I was heading out…that’s when about 50 other rats started dancing all over the recycling. I asked the mechanic frantically – ‘‘How many rats do you see in here each night?” He started to laugh.

He said, “Oh, hundreds. There are enormous families living WAY under the recycling pile on the back wall of the facility.” I said, “Do they interact with you guys fixing recycling equipment into the night?” His reply was, “AH, more times than not they are more scared of us and busy finding food in any unwashed recycling.” He did add that last year when they cleared out the farthest paper bay in that facility that is normally kept closed – he witnessed hundreds of rats desperately clinging to the bottom of the door as it slowly climbed upward. He said it was literally ‘raining’ rats as the rats realized only too late that they were extremely high in the air and needed to let go of the door.

I can actually picture rats falling off that dock bay door and it made me think of how single-minded I am when it comes to how recycling happens. Yes, we are moving recycling into an area to carefully bale it and get it to market back into a reusable good – but there are other living creatures who have also come to need this recycling process and ‘help’ with the cleaning of these materials before they make it into a bale. Our friends or foes, the rats… and I’m sure there are a few other kinds of animals too, but I only witnessed the rats and now have a whole new appreciation for night-life at our Boulder MRF.

I’ve been recycling and hauling recycling to recovery facilities for over 18 years. Never have I seen so many rats in one place, realized I never think of what happens when we ‘let go’ of items more and lastly thankful that I never have to fix recycling equipment into the wee hours of the night at a trash/recycling or recovery facility.

I’m ready for Spring. I’m ready for the snow to stop falling and let normal recycling routes continue – but glad in a weird sort-of way I got to witness this nightlife at a MRF.


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