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Department History

Information about the history of Albuquerque's Solid Waste Department.

The following was taken from the November/December 1998 50th Anniversary issue of "Waste Wise," the Solid Waste Management Department's employee newsletter.

The establishment of city-run trash pick-up in 1948 began a long journey in which the Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) has grown from a tiny trash collection crew to a highly efficient city department with six divisions and more than 400 employees.

Preventative Maintenance Shop Foreman George Wyler Sr. began working for SWMD in 1968 on a trash collection crew making $1.99 an hour. He remembers how backbreaking the job was during those years, when trash collection meant hoisting barrels of trash into rear-loaders or onto a flatbed loaded with bins. He also remembers coming home those first few days so tired and sore that he could barely walk.

Residential Division Superintendent Henry Mora, who also hired on as a laborer in 1968, described a typical work day as hand carrying trash from back yards and alleyways at residential dwellings. Henry and his two co-workers would empty 30-gallon trash cans in residents' back yards into a large cardboard box (usually a discarded appliance box) and then hand carry the box full of garbage out to the collection truck. Using a similar method, Henry and his two co-workers went on to hand empty bins at commercial businesses and public schools.

Clean City Superintendent Leonard Griego, who marks his 26th year with the department this spring, also began his career as a laborer. He remembers being responsible for trash collection at up to 800 homes in a single day during the bag-collection days of the 1970's.

Fortunately, trash collection is a lot easier now, and safer too. Since its early days, SWMD has been organized into divisions, with trash collection handled by separate Residential and Commercial Divisions. Sixty-one drivers now work the Residential Collection routes, and Commercial Collection has evolved from a hand unloaded bin system to a front loader/roll-off system. Over the years, worker safety has become a top priority, and ongoing safety training helps ensure that all employees return to their homes each evening injury free.

During his 20 years with the department, Commercial Collections Foreman David Gonzales has also seen a lot of change, but in his opinion the most significant change affecting the department has been improvements in the equipment that we use. In fact, all of the long-term staffers that we spoke with agreed that from computers to automated trucks, technological advancements have improved the way we do our jobs more than anything else.

Both David and Leonard also pointed out that with these technological advancements, more skills are needed than ever before, and employees are having to become more educated about how to perform their jobs. Toward that purpose, SWMD's training programs have been expanded to provide both job-related instruction and the skills needed to excel and advance in today's job market.

Other significant changes include the addition of the Graffiti and Weed & Litter removal programs. These excellent programs have broadened SWMD's role in the community and allowed SWMD to partner with other City departments to improve Albuquerque's environment while helping educate and employ its residents.

All of this hard work and progress has earned the department some recognition. SWMD recently received the 1998 Road Runner Award for our quality management initiatives. Sponsored by Quality New Mexico, the award program promotes excellence in a company's performance and quality practices, including commitment to customer service, leadership, and employee development.

Through efforts like these, SWMD will continue to improve its operations in the years to come and will be an even better place for its employees to work and grow.