- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Alpheus Mboyane cleans up for the federal government. What Washington bureaucrats consign to the dustbin of history,

Mr. Mboyane hauls away — so long as its recyclable.

Mr. Mboyane, 32, collects plastic bags filled with shredded documents, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, glass bottles and newspapers from government offices.

He begins his day at ABC Recycling Services’ warehouse in Southeast at 8 a.m., loading an industrial-sized truck with 10 to 14 empty, wheeled containers.

He rolls them onto the truck’s hydraulic gate to lift into the truck. “I’ll have all of these filled and then some,” the South African immigrant says.

After securing the containers with a long, red bar and some bungee cords, Mr. Mboyane is ready to head down to his first stop, the Housing and Urban Development Department on Seventh Street in Northwest.

He moves his truck cautiously into traffic. He’s still adjusting to driving on the right side of the road. “When I was a taxi driver in Africa, all the drivers drove on the left side, so it was very difficult to learn at first,” he says.

Mr. Mboyane moved to the United States from Johannesburg in January 2002 to live with his wife, Jennifer, who is an American citizen. They met in Africa, where Mrs. Mboyane was serving in the Peace Corps and Mr. Mboyane was her driver.

He points to their apartment building in Southwest at a traffic light. “I don’t mind working this job because I have her,” and their 3-month-old son, Anthony, he says.

On this trip, Mr. Mboyane drives solo to pick up piles of plastic bags full of shredded documents, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, glass bottles, and newspapers. He normally has another worker to help with the heavy lifting.

Mr. Mboyane enters the Housing Department’s front gate and disappears in the agency’s loading dock. He is checked at the gate by federal agents who impose strict security.

He is gone for 40 minutes before emerging from the driveway, with the truck bed almost overflowing with paper materials.

“The job would not take nearly as long if I did not have to throw the [blue] tarp over the back,” he says.

He massages the back of his neck to work out the ache that has flared up in recent months and calls in the trash information to an ABC dispatcher. “It’s a heavy job sometimes, but I don’t mind. For me, it’s real work,” Mr. Mboyane says.

The loaded truck heads back to the ABC warehouse. Mr. Mboyane and three other workers unload the carts onto the warehouse’s main trash pile, a mountain of shredded paper, books, cans and cardboard.

On days when the government is shut down, Mr. Mboyane is in the warehouse, separating the recyclables into different piles. The junk is then fed into a heavy-duty baling machine and is processed into large bales, weighing about 1,400 pounds each.

Those bales are shipped to paper mills, shipyards and recycling stations in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Other, higher-grade bales, mainly ones containing only cardboard or paper, are packed into tractor trailers and sent to Baltimore to later be shipped overseas, says Marvin Silver, plant manager.

“Other countries pay pretty good money for our trash,” to make toilet paper and paper towels, he says. The company has orders to send its recyclable stock to Delhi, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

On this Tuesday, Mr. Mboyane, who works about 45 hours a week, has a full schedule of government trash to pick up. By the end of the day, he will have picked up at least one truckload from the Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Education, Energy and Agriculture departments.

He also has one commercial pickup at York Service Building Inc. in Northwest.

“I get a last-minute call every once in a while, but they mainly send me out to pick up government trash,” he says as the now-empty truck turns onto Constitution Avenue.

While Mr. Mboyane says he made a fair share of mistakes in the beginning, he is more confident when he pulls up to the imposing granite Interior Department building on C Street.

“I just do it all with a smile. I’ve learned that you should greet every customer with a smile because it’s more helpful than just keeping your head down,” he says, after smiling at the security workers.

Security only allows Mr. Mboyane into the loading dock, but he is visible 30 feet away from the entrance. He jumps onto the truck’s bed and loads containers with plastic bags, packing them down to make space.

Two other government employees come out to help him finish the load and cover the truck bed.

With nine full carts of junk and three bales of cardboard, Mr. Mboyane heads back to the ABC warehouse to unload.

He carefully backs up the truck into one of the warehouse’s loading docks and quickly helps to relinquish his load before the next run.

Though Mr. Mboyane notes the difficulty of supporting his family on his $10-an-hour salary, he has no immediate plans to look for another job.

“If I had to look for another job, I would focus less on this one. I want to do this job well so I might get a little more money to pay more bills and send my baby to day care,” he says.

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