The Valdosta Daily Times
From the route to the yard, Joe McKinnon says he wants to excel at each of the tasks assigned to him at the recycling division of the city's public works department so that he can get more done.
McKinnon is part of an operation that processes approximately 40,000 tons of recyclable material each year, according to deputy city manager John L. Whitehead III. His main job is recycling and he, along with Tony Adams, lead a crew that is supported by three trucks and a yard full of equipment.
“We make sure everything out on the road is taken care of and that there is no litter blowing around or recycling bins out of place,” says McKinnon. “We work special pickups into our routes. And we'll also help out other crews if they need help tackling things like highway cleanup.”
The routes vary from day to day, but they all start at 7 a.m. says McKinnon. His team usually doesn’t finish routes until 3 p.m. on Mondays until, 2 p.m. on Tuesday, and 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays.
“Mondays and Tuesday, those are our heavy days right there,” says McKinnon. “We have from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. to get it all done on Mondays and Tuesday. On Mondays, we have the eastern and central areas of the town — those are big routes. Often times it comes down to the nitty gritty and we wrap it up the routes around 3 p.m. – that's how hard we run. We're out there huffing and puffing, but we still get it done.”
Commingled recycling bins and un-compacted boxes can slow the route down, but his team soldiers on, he says. He’s seen everything from lumber and pallets to bed frames and furnishings mixed with recyclable materials, he says.
“If boxes aren't broken down and there is trash in the recycle bin, we have to take care of that and it takes us longer to finish the routes. Sometimes we have to take out plastic and styrofoam, and then break down the boxes before collecting them.”
The brevity of routes in the second half of the work week affords time for McKinnon’s team to tackle requests for special pickups, says the crew leader.
“After we finish our routes in the latter half of the week, we do special pickups,” says McKinnon. “Those routes usually consist of picking up glass and boxes from businesses, but Fridays are usually a bit slack. We do what we have to do and then we go home.”
McKinnon says he looks for every opportunity to expand his part in the facility's production, whether he’s working to complete his team's routes more efficiently or expanding his capabilities back at the yard. For example, he’d never used the facility’s leaf machine until the he needed the skill.
“When there's only leaves, no straw or pine cones, we can use the leaf machine to suck up leaves really quickly,” says McKinnon. “The leaves are taken back to the yard on a tow truck and they’re picked up after they turn to mulch. But I had no previous experience with a machine like. I had to learn how to use it on the job.”
McKinnon says his education doesn’t stop when his crews has cleaned the yard of debris and Whitehead has discharged them from duties. He says he’s earning his CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) at Wiregrass Technical College.
“After I get my CDL, I can drive anything on the yard,” says McKinnon. “So whenever John needs something, there'll be nothing holding me back from doing it and I can do a better job overall.”
His aspirations to drive commercial vehicles may have been influenced in part by his uncle, who has been tackling long-hauls for about seven years. McKinnon, however, has little interest in extended time on the road and he has good reason.
“My uncle will call me every now in then to let me know where he's at,” says McKinnon. “He's called me from Mexico and Las Vegas for example, but that life is not for me. I have to be near my kids.”
McKinnon loves to travel and would like to spend more weekends vacationing in Florida with his family, but he says he’s content as long as he stays on his life’s route.
“As long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I want to improve on whatever that may be,” says McKinnon. “I like to master one thing, so that I can devout my time to something else. I just want to be good at what I do and take care of my kids as best as I can.”