Workers start process with pickup, then it goes to meet a noisy demise
Section: Main,  Page: A9

Date: Thursday, February 3, 2011

ALBANY -- Emmett Cummings and Mike Matteo carry, lift and dump recyclables from blue and green plastic bins into opposite sides of truck 37: paper and cardboard on one side, commingled glass and plastic on the other. They swap stories and joke around to ease the monotony of making hundreds of identical pickups each day. They find joy in working outdoors and an occasional thank you from a grateful early rising resident.

Cummings, a 55-year-old father of five, was downsized from jobs managing a state-run bakery and a Papa John's pizza shop. "I'm thankful to have a job in this economy," he said. "There are worse ways to make a living."

Matteo, 44, who used to run his own lawn business, spent six months on a trash truck and switched to recycling. "It's a longer day on a recycling route, but the weight is lighter and it's a lot cleaner," he said.

As the two Department of General Services employees ended their route just past 10 a.m. on Victor Street near the Harriman State Office Campus, Cummings drove the big, blue and boxy truck to County Waste and Recycling's single-stream recycling plant off South Pearl Street near the Port of Albany. A new, state-of-the-art $12 million machine roared to life in November. It's 150 yards long, 50 yards wide and 40 feet high, weighs 1 million pounds, harnesses 70 conveyor belts and is driven by a 1,000-horsepower engine. It runs 20 hours a day, seven days a week, tended by 79 workers. County Waste sells the separated recyclables -- a smorgasbord of paper, plastic, glass and metal -- for up to $1 million a month. The site is the largest single-stream recycling center in the state.

Cummings backed up the truck into a warehouse and dumped the paper and cardboard, which cascaded in a beige-colored bulk and landed with a thump on the concrete floor. Cummings drove to a scale to weigh the truck, returned and unloaded the glass, plastic and metal in a cacophony of smashing, crashing, clinking and clonking.

As a bulldozer's blade pushed the mound to a conveyor belt, what sounded like the pop, pop, pop of gunfire was actually the explosion of containers whose caps had not been removed . Cummings and Matteo didn't flinch.

They weighed the empty truck and logged the 3.01 tons of recyclables collected this Friday. Their work was done for the day.

-- Paul Grondahl