“It’s scary. But, I wouldn’t ask anyone to change places with me,” Trash collection specialists proud of their work

“It’s scary. But, I wouldn’t ask anyone to change places with me,” Trash collection specialists proud of their work

Sanitation workers efficiently collecting garbage. May 11, Miyakojima

May 21, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Shinji Sano

Miyakojima – Every morning, at the same time with the same music, the garbage collection truck races around town. While most of society has stopped working or is working remotely due to the spread of COVID-19, sanitation workers have continued to collect trash without a single day of vacation. “Thinking about the risk of infection for myself and my family is scary. But, it doesn’t mean we can take time off.” The pride taken by those who work to maintain people’s everyday lives is vital support for everyone’s ability to stay at home.

Early in the morning on May 11, one of the garbage collection trucks that drives around Miyakojima has two riders wearing masks, sunglasses, and rubber gloves. The two collect garbage, taking turns as driver and collector. They turn off the main street, and just when you think they’ve gone down one side-street, they are already turning around and heading down another.

One of the sanitation workers, Yasuhiro Yonaha, 46, said smiling, “The route is intricate like a spider’s web. There is a process to collecting all of the garbage efficiently. It is not something that can be done in a day.”
It’s not just the route. House waste in Miyakojima is divided into four categories: burnable, recyclable, bulk, and yard waste. The workers use their eyes, hands, and intuition to determine what type of garbage the bags contain. This all happens in less than a second.

There are 29 employees who operate a fleet of 30 garbage collection vehicles around the city each day.
Kazuyuki Shimoji, 40, who collects burnable waste, boasts, “Due to the risk of contamination, even though some may think we are just here to carry the garbage, this is a specialized profession that we could not ask someone to do for us.”

There have also been times where people have gotten angry when they are told that the trash cannot be collected if it has not been properly separated. As the coronavirus progresses, there has also been an increase in the number of masks found in the garbage. “I only briefly see my family’s faces in passing. It’s scary to think about, but we have a responsibility to properly collect the garbage.”

Because they “would not ask someone to do [the job] in our place,” they never take days off. Yonaha says that the reason they aren’t taking breaks is to show gratitude to the people of the city. “The city has been working to improve the labor conditions for sanitation workers. The number of collection contracts has also increased this year. This is all paid for by people’s taxes. For that we are grateful, and so we must carry out our duties.”
Recently, people have been placing food for the workers at collection sites, as well as masks for the workers to use. The two sanitation workers said smiling, “We are really grateful, and we want to reciprocate those kind thoughts. It is an honor to collect your garbage.”
(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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