Columbia's dirty jobs: Refuse Collector

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 | 7:52 p.m. CST; updated 4:00 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Rosemarie McNeary is Columbia's only female trash collector. McNeary has been collecting trash for 3 years and loves riding around town on the back of the truck and seeing children's reactions.

COLUMBIA — Rosemarie McNeary is the only woman driving a garbage truck and picking up trash for the city. She has been working for the garbage collection service for three years. In rain, sleet or snow, McNeary and her partner take turns driving the truck through subdivisions.

The person who is not driving, rides on the back of the truck, jumps off at trash collection points and throws the garbage into the back. On two Saturdays a month , McNeary accepts household hazardous wastes such as paint, oil and household cleaning materials at the city’s Solid Waste Division headquarters on Lakeview Avenue.

What inspired you to become a trash collector?

“I used to work at the landfill, and I used to watch” a female trash-truck driver “come in and out of the landfill, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Are there lingering residues or odors at the end of the day?

“My kids make me sit in the garage. They say, ‘Mommy don’t come in the house like this.’.”

How long do you sit in the garage?

“I take my clothes off in the garage. Sometimes, they tell me I stink, and I ask them, ‘How did the money smell?’ that they asked me for.”

What does your uniform look like at the end of the day?

“I look like I’ve been drug through the dirt. Sometimes, I look like I got oil all over me. I just look dirty.”

What’s your strangest trash encounter?

“I have picked up yard waste and got a snake out of it. It was a garden snake, I threw it on the truck.”

What’s it like driving the garbage truck?

“It is fantastic. I was scared of it when I first started.”

What do you like about your job?

“On my route, there’s a lot of little kids. ... They will come out in their pajamas just to hear us blow that horn.

“We have people that come out when it’s hot and offer us water, something cold to drink. That makes our day that they’re concerned about our health.”

What’s it like to ride on the back of the truck?

“The wind is blowing, it’s calming, it feels good to feel the air. It’s wonderful.”

What’s the worst day for trash collection?

(Laughing) “It’s all of them. It’s a race between the holidays and college kids leaving because then it’s real hectic because they don’t take a lot of stuff home with them.”

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