The Washington Post

A tale of trash and tree limbs


Spare a thought for some of the people most affected by last week’s storm: the workers who pick up our garbage.

“You’re dealing with a higher tonnage of trash,” Jerald Boyd, chief operating officer of Unity Disposal and Recycling in Laurel, told me. “Not only that, but what you are actually collecting isn’t the typical household trash. It is now completely spoiled food that in most instances has been sitting outside in 100-degree temperatures.”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive


“You’re dealing with many, many other issues,” Jerald continued. “One: smell. Two: rotting food and plastic trash bags. If a bag breaks, now you have liquid and juices that are either in a driveway or on a street. Those liquids start to ferment. I don’t have to give you the gory details, I’m sure.”

Too late, Jerald.

“You have crows, blackbirds and raccoons that are attracted to those smells. . . . When the trash is located somewhere other than the curb — by the garage or at the rear of the home — we’ve seen lots of examples where raccoons have torn into bags, or blackbirds or different rodents. That makes for a not-so-pleasant experience for the work crews involved.”

Not-so-pleasant experience? I think this qualifies as unpleasant.

“There are health hazards as well. We have to make sure crews have their PPE — personal protection equipment, like gloves and safety goggles — so things aren’t splattering in their face or on their hands.”

Just getting to the trash was sometimes a challenge. One of Jerald’s crews in Chevy Chase couldn’t reach a house that had been bisected by a fallen oak. There was police tape everywhere. In the end, the crew parked the truck nearby and collected the bins and yard debris by hand.

Speaking of trees, area jurisdictions have been buried under a blizzard of tree waste.

“We’ve basically been operating almost 24 hours a day, in terms of receiving, grinding and shipping out [mulch],” said Peter Karasik, manager of Montgomery County’s transfer station. On a typical summer day, about 700 customers will drop off yard waste. One day last week, there were 4,000.

The county’s three big wood-grinding machines have been augmented by a fourth borrowed from a contractor. “We’re also also trying to get a fifth unit,” Peter said.

All those fallen trees means there’s enough mulch for area homeowners to start mulching their gardens to a height of about three feet rather than two or three inches.

Time machine

Alexandria’s Spencer Annear was lucky: Spencer, who lives next to a hospital, was without electricity for only 12 hours. But he was without cable TV for 24 hours and Internet for six days. In a way, he said, the experience was like time travel.

“I figure the loss of electricity put our house back to the 1890s because we had no electric lights, our garage door became manual and our refrigerator became an icebox,” Spencer wrote.

The loss of cable TV put him back into the late 1940s: They listened to a (battery-powered) radio.

“I did get a lot of reading done, in paper books,” he said. “Internet loss probably put us back into the 1980s, before computers were user-friendly and Internet was in most houses.”

Thanks to the U.S. Postal Service, the mail came every day, right on schedule.

Spencer wrote: “Maybe those who long for the good old days should use periods of outages, like the one just ending, to count the blessings of modern life.”

Send a Kid to Camp

At Camp Moss Hollow, lightning hit one of the transformers behind the dining hall, leaving the camp without electricity temporarily. But the power is back on now, and once again, “lights out” means something to the campers.

It costs Family Matters of Greater Washington $700 to send a child to Moss Hollow for one week. No family pays that much. The admission fee is based on family income; some families pay nothing.

To make a tax-deductible donation, go to Click where it says, “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

Or why not treat yourself to a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich Wednesday at any Clyde’s restaurant. Proceeds from the BLT — ordered at the Hamilton, Old Ebbitt Grill or any Clyde’s — will benefit Send a Kid to Camp.

To read previous columns, go to


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