Post-holiday trash glut begins around the nation

Friday, December 31, 2004

ALBANY, Ga. -- Now that Santa has made his rounds, the nation's sanitation workers are making theirs, hauling off tons of boxes, torn wrapping paper and other Christmas detritus during what is the busiest week of the year for those in the garbage business.

Few trash collectors are allowed to take vacation this week, and some cities and sanitation companies bring in extra workers to help handle the holiday refuse.

Americans generate an estimated 25 percent more waste, or 1 million extra tons, per week between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to the environmental group Use Less Stuff.

Albany, a city of 77,000 residents about 200 miles south of Atlanta, will put out about 800 tons of garbage this week, twice the normal amount.

"All the wrapping paper and boxes add a lot of bulk. There's food from gatherings, the turkey carcasses. You can experience what people got for Christmas. It's a chance to see who was naughty and who was nice," said Erika Cook, Atlanta-based spokeswoman for Waste Management Inc., North America's biggest trash hauler.

In Aspen, Colo., sanitation workers get a double whammy at Christmas from both year-around residents and the thousands more who flock to the ski resort just for the holidays. Judging from the trash, people apparently had a prosperous year, said Chris Hoofnagle, solid waste manager for Colorado's Pitkin County.

"There's all kinds of bad news about the nation's economic indicators, but it doesn't seem to be that way in the trash business," he said. "People are still throwing things away."

The garbage-truck crews who pick up old microwaves and TV sets along with boxes from new video games, bicycles and stereos can draw certain conclusions about their customers and the kind of year they had.

"Garbage tells a lot about you. You can tell where the money is and who was able to buy gifts," said Daniel Whigham, Albany's solid waste superintendent.

Worker Michael Williams said that judging from this year's trash, "it looks like everybody had a big Christmas."

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