Field Experiences: My Day on a Garbage Route

By: Michael Fernandez, Director, Miami-Dade County’s Department of Solid Waste Management

A True ProfessionalI was just recently promoted to Director for a massive integrated solid waste system. This system is the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management (DSWM). With more than 150 residential routes and collecting twice-a-week for 340,000 customers, it’s quite a system! It is comparable to numerous private hauling firms consolidated into one. Not only do we collect curbside garbage, but we also collect bulky waste. This operation is another 35 crews, ranging anywhere from 70 to 105 trucks, with a combination of self-loading grapple trucks to cranes with trash trucks. DSWM also has three landfills and a waste-to-energy facility that support the disposal of approximately 1.8 million tons.

Hitting the Road

After months on the job, I felt it was time to roll up my sleeves and hit the road with my drivers, a practice that I have done in previous leadership roles. I am a firm believer that one must get in the trenches with their soldiers to better understand the operation, as well as build relationships with staff. I decided to hit the road with one of my automation route drivers.
It was Monday morning, 6:30 am, and while walking the yard, a route supervisor thought that I was a temp and was going to assign me as a helper to another route. I felt like I was on Undercover Boss! Then, another route supervisor recognized me, and put me together with the correct driver. Finally, I met my driver. His name was George Soriano. We got into a brand new Peterbilt ASL with a New Way packing system. What a beautiful truck! I told the driver to go ahead and start the route so I could observe. About in 1 hour into the route, I asked to drive. He looked at me and asked, “Can you drive?” I responded, “I may be rusty, but I still have my CDL”. It felt great getting behind the wheel. Last time I drove an ASL, some trucks had levers and no joysticks. The truck ran like a Cadillac!

Getting Involved

Loving my job! Delivering Excellence!About four hours into the route and 555 carts later, I had packed the truck at about 12.5 tons. I drove to the nearest transfer station. I drove onto the scale and got off to get my scale ticket. The scale operator took a double take and froze. She smiled and said, “I know you.” I responded, “Yes, it’s me.” She gave me my scale ticket and told me to have a great day. I got back into my truck and proceeded to the tipping floor. About five to 10 minutes later, I was dumping. The New Way packer dumped the load like a charm. We still had another load to pick up as Mondays are typically heavy. It was about 1:30 pm and we were running behind. It took me a little bit to get into rhythm after 13 years of not driving. Next thing I knew, I saw a convoy of ASLs approaching my route. It felt great seeing the team come together to assist. We started wrapping up around 4 PM and began heading back to the yard. I had everyone doing double takes when I entered the yard. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Drivers approached me and thanked me for taking the opportunity to understand their job. They had never seen an executive get in a truck and drive. They appreciated my willingness to get involved and felt like I had their back!

I think it is very important to get out of the office and work alongside your employees on a regular basis. It is important to them, too. They are the ones that represent the organization out there. I am a firm believer in servant leadership. I like to listen to my team, find out what is going on with equipment, any operational issues, etc. I like to put the needs of the employees first. Soon after this experience, I went out with a Bulky Crew. I will share that story in an upcoming post.

Want to hear more? Come out to WASTECON and meet me and the Collections and Transfer Technical Division leadership on Tuesday, October 22, 1-3 PM, Booth 401. We will have food and drinks available during our talking trash session. You will have industry experts from all over, discussing fleet management, collection and transfer efficiency and enhancements, route software, safety, technology, legislative topics, etc. If you cannot make it, feel free to message me through SWANA.

Mike Fernandez is the Director for Miami-Dade County’s Department of Solid Waste Management. He can be reached at (305) 514-6623 or e-mail


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