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City's garbage haulers are the true pickup artists of Christmas

Trash collectors are busy hauling away the wrappings and trappings of the holiday.

December 29, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Business was picking up Thursday for Robert Parra.

And why not? The West Los Angeles rubbish collector was halfway through the busiest week of the year as he scooped up barrel after barrel overflowing with wadded-up holiday gift wrap and empty toy boxes.

Next to the blue recycling bins were black garbage containers filled with turkey bones and the other remnants of Christmas dinner. And next to them were the green lawn-clipping barrels that this day were crammed with chopped-up Christmas trees.

It's this way every year between Christmas and New Year's Day for Los Angeles sanitation workers.

The city's holiday trash collection schedule means residential pickups are a day later than usual, which gives homeowners even more time to stuff their curbside containers, said Richard Myles, a manager with the city Bureau of Sanitation's refuse collection service.

On Ilona Avenue in the Rancho Park area, Parra maneuvered his $200,000 rubbish truck around parked cars so its automated arms could reach the blue recycling bins and hoist them. The truck holds 7 tons of cardboard, paper, glass and other recyclable material.

When he had made his first pass earlier in the morning on the opposite side of the street, Parra had encountered a scavenger snatching newspapers out of bins.

The man stacked them in the street next to the bins, apparently planning to return later to load them into his pickup.

But the wind was blowing the papers into the street. Parra had to climb out of his truck to retrieve them by hand. He did the same thing when a blue bin tumbled loose from his trash truck's hydraulically operated arms and spilled its load of used wrapping paper.

"We get out and try to pick up everything we can," he said with a shrug.

Watching appreciatively from down the street was homeowner Harry Hamparzumian.

"I've lived here 31 years. My house is all paid for," Hamparzumian said with a laugh. That means he remembers the days when city trash collectors emptied residents' small rubbish barrels by hand, dumping everything mixed together into the back of old-fashioned garbage trucks.

"It's a big week for these guys. This one's been with us forever. 'Thank you! Happy New Year!' " he shouted, waving to Parra.

Recycling has taken hold in a big way in Los Angeles since the city first experimented with having residents use small yellow boxes for newspapers, cans and bottles and other recyclables. The current system sends the paper, glass and cans in the blue bins to recycling centers, household garbage in the black containers to landfills and yard clippings in the green barrels to a facility that turns them into mulch.

About 45% of Los Angeles residents' household waste is now recycled, said Jonathan Polk, a Bureau of Sanitation supervisor.

"Trash is so seasonal. In the wintertime green waste is down and in the summertime it's up," Polk said. In the week between Christmas and New Year's, the amount of household garbage and recyclables surges.

On Thursday, city trash trucks in West Los Angeles collected 240 tons of cans, bottles and paper. Normally, about 210 tons a day are picked up. Additionally, about 465 tons of household waste was collected, Polk said.

Across town, city officials gathered at the Los Angeles Zoo to announce the start of this season's annual Christmas tree recycling campaign.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, city Board of Public Works President Cynthia Ruiz, Board of Water and Power President David Nahai and Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Emile Mack urged residents to tote their dried-out Christmas trees to 28 collection sites if they were unable to chop them up and stuff the pieces into their green recycling bins.

The drop-off sites -- in operation the weekends of Jan. 6-7 and 13-14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- include selected fire stations and city parks. Addresses are available by dialing 311, officials said. Those dropping off trees will receive a free tree seedling, an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb and a coupon for a free 20-pound bag of mulch, while supplies last.

Back on Ilona Avenue, meanwhile, Parra was enjoying the holiday week's light traffic. And as heavy as his nearly 7 tons of wrapping paper, gift boxes and other recyclables were, he was pleased that there wasn't all that much heavy lifting involved.

That wasn't the case a few years ago, when someone stuffed a used automobile engine block into a blue barrel for Parra to pick up.

It was a gift, he said, that he declined to accept.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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