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The City Journals

Yet another National Driver of the Year honoree hails from among Taylorsville’s garbage and recycling collectors

Sep 07, 2021 04:11PM ● By Carl Fauver

Ryan Jones is the latest of several Wasatch Front Waste & Recycling District equipment operators to earn a Driver of the Year honor from a national trade association. (WFWRD)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Like most industries across our country, garbage and recycling collection agencies have a nationwide organization that offers guidance and measures work quality. In their case, it’s the National Waste & Recycling Association. That association has branded the drivers who gather Taylorsville waste the safest throughout the United States.

“Safety is our top priority, and we value our drivers for their attention, diligence and dedication to serving the public,” Wasatch Front Waste & Recycling District General Manager Pam Roberts said. “We offer extensive driver training, carefully track accidents, prepare monthly reports and give safety awards to our top equipment operators.”

Once WFWRD identifies its local Driver of the Year, those equipment operators are nominated for the National Driver of the Year award, sponsored by the NWRA. And, for the fifth time in 11 years, that national winner is someone who routinely drives a garbage or recycling truck in Taylorsville.

No other waste collection agency across the country has been so frequently honored over the past decade.

WFWRD Equipment Operator Ryan Jones is the 2021 NWRA Driver of the Year, after being nominated by his supervisors. The win means he and his wife will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas next February to collect his trophy during the NWRA annual convention.

“I’m a little nervous but very excited to go receive my award; I just want to see it,” Jones said. “I’m at a loss for words. I feel so honored. I don’t know how many drivers are in the pool [from across the country], but I am thrilled. It makes me feel good that people appreciate me making safety a top priority. I am so grateful to [my supervisors] for nominating me.”

“Ryan is one of the most dependable and caring people I have had the pleasure of working with in my career,” Roberts said. “He exemplifies commitment and is known for his attention to safety, customer service and devotion to our team’s success.” 

In his 13 years with WFWRD, Ryan has never had a driving accident. What’s even harder to believe is, that’s not the best record at the district.

The local waste district’s most recent NWRA National Driver of the Year honoree prior to Jones was Rhonda Kitchen, who claimed her top prize in 2017. She’s been with WFWRD—and its prior iteration, as a Salt Lake County department—nearly a quarter-century, without ever suffering a safety misstep.

“I’ll be 25 years on the job in March,” Kitchen said. “Safety is always the top priority for all of us. I am pretty careful. My last speeding ticket was 30 to 35 years ago. But I had to slam on my [waste truck] brakes just a few days ago. You always have to be paying attention.”

The year Kitchen won, the NRWA national convention was in New Orleans.

“It was my first trip to Louisiana,” she said. “We rode a ferry back and forth and also took a boat tour to check out alligators.”

In addition to Jones and Kitchen, the other three WFWRD equipment operators named NWRA National Drivers of the Year are: Gary Reay (2016), Saul Lopez (2012) and John Whittaker (2011). Reay retired two years ago, but all of the others still make weekly waste and recycling collections in Taylorsville.

Roberts reports all of her drivers have strong safety records. Those who fall short don’t remain with the district long. She only wishes she had more of them.

“Our entire district has 94 [full-time equivalent positions], 63 of them drivers,” she said. “But we currently have only 57 drivers. In fact, we’ve not been fully staffed with drivers since about 2016. There’s a nationwide shortage of drivers with [Commercial driver’s licenses], so it’s a challenge.”

WFWRD serves the cities of Cottonwood Heights, Herriman, Holladay, Millcreek, Taylorsville, portions of Murray and Sandy; the Town of Brighton; and the Metro Townships of Copperton, Emigration, Kearns, Magna and White City; along with the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County. The district collects garbage and recyclables from 13,750 Taylorsville homes. Of those, 1,272 also contract for greenwaste pickup, while another 121 households have contracted for curbside glass recyclable collection.