Professional Garbologist

Professional Garbologist


14 Years Experience

Harrisburg, PA

Female, 48

No, really, I am a state employee working in our Environmental Protection program. I have worked in the Waste Management program for nearly fifteen years. I have looked at the waste handling practices from about any type of facility you can think of, from food producers to hospitals to plating shops, and where the waste goes, like incinerators and landfills. My days are rarely dull, as I supervise ten inspectors and am usually the regulatory tie-breaker. My ideal day is a day in the field.

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26 Questions


Last Answer on November 05, 2019

Best Rated

Has anyone showed up to a landfill asking to search it for an engagement ring or something valuable they threw out?

Asked by estudia9 almost 8 years ago

Not that I have ever heard. I think by that point it would be way too late! It would be so mixed in with everything else that was placed that day it would be your "needle in a haystack" situation. I have, however, seen escorted loads of valuable or proprietary items going to the landfill for a "witnessed" disposal.

What happens when the police search a garbage dump for evidence or a body? Is there any sort of record of what piles came from what pick-up locations?

Asked by longh0rns almost 8 years ago

Unfortunately (or fortunately I think), I have not been on that type of search. Very tragic. Here in PA, landfills are required to track the waste coming in each day on a grid. So if it can be narrowed down to a span of days, a certain section of the grid could be searched. We would also know what type of waste came from where. This record-keeping is required by regulation.

I was fascinated by the scenes in the garbage dump at the end of Toy Story 3. Did you see it, and is that what really happens (with the huge magnet, and the incinerator?)

Asked by erin8 almost 8 years ago

Usually the magnet comes after the incineration. Easier to get at the metals that way, after the burn. Don't usually see a dump associated directly with an incinerator.

A couple years ago I read a report that basically said recycling is a complete waste of time, in that it actually winds up costing way more than it's worth. Agree/disagree?

Asked by Shana AZ almost 8 years ago

Depends on the material. The glass market has been pretty bad for about 25 years. Very little price change, but at least folks are starting to get creative and are starting to use it for different building materials. Its still cheaper to manufacture glass from raw materials than to recycle. 1&2 plastics, cardboard, and certain e-wastes seem to be up in demand right now. These seem to be paying for themselves many times over.

Have you ever seen this clip from the show Jackass? (Think it was shot in PA, ironically). They call it the "Poo Dive", but do you have any idea what might actually be in the water he jumps into? (Start the clip at 1 min 35 sec)

Asked by mike almost 8 years ago

I'm guessing its full-on poo...

Is there a point where we'll run out of landfills, and where would the trash go then?

Asked by junkyard dog almost 8 years ago

Due to public opposition in a lot of permitting attempts, I think that the use of landfills will eventually come to an end. They are finite facilities, with only a certain amount of property and allowable heights that must be conformed to under their permits. Incinerators are probably the next best choice. The technology has improved over the years, so the operation is becoming more efficient. Many generate electricity directly to the grid. The issue is what to do with the ash. I have yet to hear of a great use, and it is usually landfilled. I have read about plasma incineration, and know that there are a few facilities in an experimental capacity out there. The ones I read about produce energy, and due to constant addition to trash, are basically self-perpetuating, not needing an outside fuel for more than start-up. These produce an obsidian-type glass as a waste product. I am hoping never to see ocean disposal ever again...

What makes a type of garbage right for incineration versus getting tossed in a landfill?

Asked by Rob-E almost 8 years ago

Typically it is only municipal (or household-type trash) that goes to an incinerator. It is usually pretty dry and is small enough to easily move to the conveyors from the floor. It is difficult to deal with large items there. We are not dealing with waste that could ultimately contribute to air quality violations. Technology is getting better, but I think we could make some improvements. Landfills, due to their construction and management are suited to handle not only the household waste, but also bulky items and waste from non-hazardous industrial processes. A lot of the waste must go through approvals prior to acceptance so that it is in compliance with the permit. Tires, liquids, yard waste, and hazardous wastes are not allowed.

Where does all the biohazard waste from hospitals end up?

Asked by Yechhhh almost 8 years ago

Under our regs in PA, most of the bio waste from medical facilities is required to be made unrecognizable by shredding, incineration, or shrinkwrapping. All of it must be sterilized prior to final disposition of the waste or the incineration ash in a sanitary landfill. There are more facilities that incinerate the waste to produce energy coming on line as well.

What was the grossest thing you've ever come across in this job? And are you just totally desensitized to that kinda stuff at this point?

Asked by J's mom almost 8 years ago

I'd have to say the one of the worst things I've seen was the unsucessful attempt at a cow compost pile at a farm. I was there looking at the other end of the pile originally, which was the trash-burning end. I walked around to see the scrap metal section of the pile, and after seeing it I just happened to look up above my head and there was a leg sticking out of the side of the "mulch" part of the pile. Yikes! I can say that I've been around the block enough that I'm ready for a snack after visiting the landfill. Some kind of weird Pavlovian reaction, I guess. Gross, eh?

Where does the whole Waste Management / Mafia stereotype come from? And have you ever dealt with any real mob guys?

Asked by Paulie Walnutz almost 8 years ago

There are days I wonder... I have asked the theorhetical question of my landfill managers, which makes them stop in their tracks, but no, we've never come across any bodies.

What do city garbageman get paid?

Asked by karendreyfus almost 8 years ago

Whatever the prevailing union wage is, usually.

Of all the types of facilities you visit, which are typically the most unsanitary in terms of waste handling? Who are the "problem children?"

Asked by Oscar almost 8 years ago

I'd say that the worst "children" are the ones that try to recycle odd things, such as metal-bearing sludges, or those that accumulate things like tires with all the best intentions. They feel they are going to make money when the "market is up", but most of the time they just make a big mess that gets them in trouble.

Do you even smell the stench when you walk into treatment facilities anymore, or do you not even notice it? Does it stay on you when you leave and do other people notice?

Asked by orna_paul almost 8 years ago

I still smell it every time, but after the first few minutes, you really don't notice it any more. I can sometimes catch a whiff after the fact, but I don't think anyone but me picks up on it. The smell that keeps on giving is burnt shingles, can't escape that one!

Is it true that leftover food from restaurants somehow makes its way to farm animals?

Asked by Tamir almost 8 years ago

Absolutely! I see it more from the food processing facilities. Guess it beats taking it to the landfill. I'll be honest, though, I get concerned about the nutritional level of some things...

Do the facilities you monitor dread your visits or do you have good relationships with them?

Asked by anthony almost 8 years ago

The ones we see on a regular basis know we're there to make sure they are complying with their permit requirements and the regs. We get to know the staff at these places pretty well, and most of the time the visits are great! Our unpermitted folks don't know we're coming, so we usually scare the bejeebers out of them. If they are following regulation, usually they have a pretty good day when we come around. If they aren't, well...

Do you use disposable things like paper plates or plastic cups? Or any single use products? I wonder if seeing how much unnecessary waste there is changed your way of doing things.

Asked by PanaSayUh 7 months ago

I do, but it isn't my first preference. I use reusable boxes and wash my plastic silverware, after lunch and carry a metal water bottle and insulated mug pretty much everywhere I go. Just picked up a metal straw! I also am willing to buy quality items so I only have to buy once, and shop for clothes on consignment. There are lots of things you can do, even if they are small, that can make big impact.

Do people think of you as a garbage(wo)man, and if so does it bother you?

Asked by lesley91 over 7 years ago

Nope, I regulate them.

Is it really all that bad if I accidentally put some non-recyclables in with my recycling? Does someone at the facility manually sort out the stuff that can't be recycled before it goes into whatever recycling contraption it goes into?

Asked by Seymour over 7 years ago

Not the end of the world, but recycling and disposal facilities are usually not on the same property in my experience. So, it is best if you are vigilant in separating your waste before the bins at your house.

What is the nastiest thing you have ever handled?

Asked by Dan 7 months ago

Hmmm.... I think strong solvents are probably the worst, but nothing beats the day I walked into a warehouse where they were storing hydrofluoric acid next to concentrated sodium hydroxide. For those of you not chemists out there, this is a "run away now" situation. Probably the grossest thing I've come across was a mortality compost pile that wasn't working as planned. Let's just say there were cow legs sticking out of unexpected places...

Have you ever drove a trash truck? Was it fun?

Asked by Jake 7 months ago

Sorry, no. I just help regulate their activities.

Do garbage dumps make the surrounding community smell bad? Is there technology that can reduce the smell?

Asked by Croele1 about 7 years ago

They can, but under the permits that the facilities hold, they are to have nuisance plans, which cover odor management. There are many things that can be done, such as gas management systems and deodorant sprays that help greatly.

Hey you should answer the questions from 5-6 years ago just for the fun of it.

Asked by Ding dong daddy, ding dong daddy, ding dong daddy 7 months ago

Done, enjoy!

Are you scared of COVID? Are people who deal with trash at a higher risk?

Asked by asdf about 1 month ago


Hello, How are you? Are you a democrat?

Asked by Alex 7 months ago


Do you have to work sundays?

Asked by Henry 7 months ago


What is the best and worst part of your job. Would you recommend someone to do this job?

Asked by Dallas 6 months ago