By Jenn Watt
Mason Gordon stands a few metres from the shed at the West Guilford landfill where he works as a landfill attendant on a warm Friday morning travel mug in hand watching as vehicles pull into the driveway and to their right up to the recycling bins.
He eyes the contents in one person’s bag – thankful for the clear plastic bag rules – and calls out a friendly reminder: “milk cartons are actually paper!” It’s confusing he concedes when the cartons come with the plastic spouts.
On a normal shift Gordon would have been up at the bins with the visitors giving advice on recycling and waste reduction but also asking about their families chatting about the weather and sharing a joke or two.
That’s changed now to accommodate physical distancing as the municipality seeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“An average day I would probably spend about 50 per cent of my time at my recycling bins helping customers sort the recycling make sure everything’s going to the right spot” Gordon says. “Now I try to do that from 20 feet away.”
On Friday he doesn’t approach anyone – if anything he spends a good deal of time taking steps back ensuring the space between him and the landfill users is vastly greater than the two recommended metres. Three orange pylons have been set up around his work shed serving as a visual cue to keep a distance.
“For me I can’t help anyone [physically] anymore. I can’t help unload the cars. I can’t help them sort their recycling out properly. I’m having to take literally steps back. It’s really strange” he said.
That distance has also changed the dynamics with some of the more familiar faces that come through on a weekly basis. One of his regulars told him that when the protocols around physical distancing came into practice she worried how she was going to tell him that they couldn’t have their chats anymore. Gordon laughs as he recounts the story because he too has had the same dilemma.
“It’s mostly smiling and waving. You can have small conversations but I also don’t want to hold anyone up so that way we don’t develop lineups and crowding” he says.
And yet on Friday the landfill is still an overwhelmingly positive place. Visitors roll past the shed arms extended out windows to wave every once in a while slowing down to holler a hello or dole out a gentle ribbing that Gordon is having his photo taken for the newspaper.
His favourite part of the job is the people he says standing on the shed’s deck hands in pockets watching the cars complete their circuit. Plus it’s fulfilling.
“I feel like I’m actually doing something. I’m actually helping” he says.
Gordon says that since pandemic precautions have been in place there are a few regular users who haven’t been in – ones who are in wheelchairs and need more assistance. He said he hopes they’re getting someone else to bring in their garbage and asks members of the public to consider helping their neighbours with garbage if they can.