Air Date: Week of May 14, 1999
For the past year, residents of Tacoma, Washington, have been hauling out their trash and recyclables to the tunes of The Collectors, a five-man singing group of real Tacoma garbagemen. The Collectors were formed to ease the transition to, among other things, new trash days. It's been a success -- recycling has already increased 300% in the city. Living On Earth offers this sound portrait of the tuneful trashmen.
KNOY: Singing barbers are nothing unusual, and their quartets have become world-renowned. But can fame and fortune await a group of singing garbagemen?
MAN: (To music, chorus joining in) Talkin' trash....Talkin' trash...
KNOY: This is the sound that residents of Tacoma, Washington, have been hearing a lot of recently, courtesy of The Collectors: 5 sanitation engineers whose job description now includes singing the praises, literally, of their work. Gail Greenwood, a community relations specialist for Tacoma's Solid Waste Utility, came up with the idea of singing garbagemen. The city was making big changes to its solid waste and recycling programs, and Ms. Greenwood thought it would be a good idea to make the transition as easy and fun as possible.
GREENWOOD: Actually, a lot of the changes were really good changes. It was just, what would be the most efficient, best, most fun way to get the message out? We thought, let's have fun with it. Government doesn't have to be boring. Not only has it been fun, it's been very effective. Recycling's increased 300% in Tacoma.
KNOY: So, how did you find these guys?
GREENWOOD: Well, we did 2 things. First we did a talent interview of everyone at the Solid Waste Utility. We thought we might end up with singing garbagemen, but we weren't sure. Maybe we would have dancing garbagemen or juggling garbagemen. So, we surveyed all the people who work at Solid Waste Utility, and we found out that we have a lot of singers. So, we scheduled them for next day to audition, and there's a little bowling alley down the street, and in the dart room of a bowling alley The Collectors were born.
MAN: (Singing) Well, it started from the dump with a thing that they call a ditty. (Chorus: "A ditty!") So they took 5 guys and had them sing for the city. (Chorus: "The city!") Spreadin; the news...
GREENWOOD: One of the changes we had was, 80% of the people in the City of Tacoma were going to change the day that their garbage and recycling were collected. So we thought, how could we get that news out? Because people, some of them had the same garbage day for 20 years. So we got a flatbed truck, we put The Collectors on the back of it, and on a Monday they went to the new Tuesday neighborhood, and they sang to them, "We'll pick up your trash tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow..." I won't sing it for you. "We'll be back." And that was a real -- it was a fun day and it was a neat success. They literally, having your garbagemen go through town and serenade you. People loved it, they were out on their porches.
THE COLLECTORS: (Singing) We'll pick up your trash tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, we'll be back. Just set out your cans tomorrow. Separate the garbage and recycle. Join the fun.
SOLOIST: When we're stuck with a can that's old and grimy, we just stick out our chin...
GREENWOOD: They weren't real thrilled when we came up with that idea, but it was just funny to think of these big, burly garbagemen singing "Tomorrow" of all things. They kind of still roll their eyes when we talk about it. But I said look, it's a one-day thing that you need to do. And something about having your garbagemen singing "Tomorrow," it really worked.
SOLOIST 1: Tomorrow!
SOLOIST 2: Tomorrow!
SOLOIST 1: We'll be back --
SOLOIST 2: Tomorrow!
SOLOIST 3: It's only a day away.
CHORUS: Aaaaaaaah, tomorrow, tomorrow, we set out tomorrow, 'cause you've got a brand new day.
KNOY: L.C., I'd like to ask you a question.
KNOY: How has this made you feel about your job?
L.C.: Well, it's a lot more fun. You know, this whole idea, the whole campaign, it just brought a little fun into the job, you know, and made it enjoy -- I mean, actually, you have to like garbage to do garbage. And so it's enjoyable there. But you get recognition there all of a sudden: hey, weren't you in the paper? Aren't you one of those singing garbagemen? Nobody's asked for the autograph yet (Knoy laughs)...
KNOY: T-Bone, I'd like to ask you a question. What was it like the first time you went out and sang in front of people? How'd you feel?
T-BONE: Nervous. Anxious. The only thing running through my mind was, don't mess up. (Laughs with Knoy)
KNOY: Did you have any previous singing experience?
T-BONE: Only in the church. Sang there for a few years. So, it's a little bit different.
MAN: Okay, here we go.
THE COLLECTORS: (Singing) It's so easy to recycle. It's so easy to recycle. It's so easy, it's so easy -- yes, so doggone easy, doggone easy, yeah -- seems so easy, seems so easy, seems so easy -- let's recycle to get less solid waste. Yeah! It's so easy to recycle. It's so easy to recycle...
T-BONE: Well, it's more fun with people out. Like, yesterday I was out on my route, and customers are coming out and they say, "Wasn't that you in the paper I saw the other day?" And I'm sitting there, "Yeah, it was me." "You know, I looked at that and I said, I'm pretty sure that's my garbageman." So he came out and he said hello, and we talked for a little bit, and I continued on. And that feels pretty good.
THE COLLECTORS: (Singing) Yeah! It's so easy to recycle. It's so easy to recycle.
KNOY: Tony T-Bone Ailed is a member of Tacoma, Washington's singing garbagemen, The Collectors. His partners are Lawrence L.C. Gray, James Cool- J Braggan, Dan Owens, and Hiram D.J. de Jesus. We also heard from Tacoma Solid Waste Utility spokeswoman Gail Greenwood.
(Music up and under, and beeping)
GREENWOOD: I would always just tease them about it. I would say okay, you guys, before you come to practice, you know, do me a favor, if you don't mind. Make sure you take a shower. I'm just kind of teasing them, but they always would do it. It was kind of a change in the life of the average garbageman.
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