Whether people have their trash picked up, take it to a landfill or to the local transfer station, there is always someone there to help and guide.
With just short of 50 years in the trash and recycling business, Dean Bell of Angels Camp still manages to greet everyone with a smile at the Avery Transfer Station operated by Gambi Disposal out of San Andreas.
“I’m a strange cat,” Bell said. “I love my job.”
He equates the love of his job with the company he works for.
“They are old school; come to work, do your job and be polite,” Bell said.
“Dean Bell came in as a floater on call and whenever I needed him he went to whatever station I needed him,” said Mark Zeyen, Gambi Disposal operations manager. “When the opportunity came up for him to transfer to the Avery station, he jumped at the chance and ran with it. He’s really part of the community up there; we are proud of him and all our station operators.”
Bell grew up just outside the walls of San Quentin Prison at house 44, living with his grandfather Joe Ferretti, a death watch prison guard known within the prison as “the hangman.”
“I went to school with the other kids inside the prison walls until I was 12 years old,” Bell said.
When his grandfather died, his mother moved young Bell to San Rafael, where he attended Terra Linda High School.
After high school, Bell enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Seabee, a naval construction battalion.
“We had our orders to deploy to Vietnam, to Quang Tri area, when Nixon announced the war was over,” Bell said.
Bell served in the Navy for two and a half years and an additional seven in the reserves. When he came home from his full-time service, he began looking for employment in earnest and unwittingly found himself a job that would become a career.
“A friend of mine gave me a job on a recycle belt at Marine Sanitary,” Bell said. “All night long I would sort recyclables.” He was eventually promoted to manager.
With the skills he obtained as a Navy Seabee, he soon advanced to installing the massive compactors at transfer stations, welding broken bins and “traveling a lot” to various transfer stations for work needed.
Twelve years ago he landed a job at Gambi.
“Station operators do so much,” Zeyen said. “They track flow of traffic, check IDs, help customers understand recyclables, compact materials and more.”
Now as station manager of the Avery Transfer Station, Bell said, “If the train falls off the tracks it’s my fault.”
The average amount of trash that leaves the Avery Transfer Station is two compact boxes per day, each holding 40 square yards of compacted trash. This is with a limit of two yards per day per customer.
The most difficult part of the job Bell said is dealing with the people, but conversely it is the most enjoyable. “Many of the locals I am on a first-name basis with,” he said.
However, dealing with visitors can cause some anxiety for Bell.
On July 7, 824 cars visited the Avery Transfer Station. While that is not an uncommon number on a holiday weekend, it can cause some issues for Bell and his staff.
“If they don’t have a local ID or proof that they can dispose of their trash here, we have to turn them away; you don’t have an ID, you don’t dump,” Bell said. This can make some visitors angry, but Bell follows company policy: “Always be polite.”
“Additionally, many folks simply don’t recycle,” Bell said. “We mark the bins, we tell them where it goes, but most of the holiday trash ends up in the trash compactors.” This causes it to fill more quickly and can cause some backups due to overload.
Though Bell claims to understand why people choose not to recycle, some, he feels, may just be misinformed or lack motivation. However, he believes others “believe our nation is quickly becoming buried in recyclables that we can no longer use.” Regardless of the view, Bell asserts that recycling, in any amount, is better for not only the environment but the life expectancy of the landfill.
“I do want people to remember that while we take all one through seven plastics, cardboard, scrap metal and many other recyclables, we do not take large appliances (at any transfer station), nor do we take paint,” Bell said.
Gambi offers a plethora of solutions for those wanting to recycle but are unsure of how to go about it.
“This is really an enjoyable place,” Bell said. “I will be here until I retire.”