Working in the solid waste and recycling industry for 50 years, Paul Ledieff has navigated the “ins and outs” of several jobs while witnessing shifts in technology, equipment and innovation.

Just out of high school, Paul Ledieff went to work as a data processor for Mobile Oil Company. Too ambitious to work at a job without the possibility of advancement, he began looking for a new opportunity. While at church one day chatting with a church elder, Ledieff was told that one of the elder’s trash company’s drivers was leaving, and that if he got his permit, they would teach him how to drive a roll-off truck. After earning his permit, Ledieff began working as a driver at the trash company in 1970. After working for a few other solid waste companies, he set down professional roots at the Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier, CA in 1972. Beginning as a laborer, he picked up papers, cleaned offices and worked in the scale house. After earning his class-A license, Ledieff drove transfer trucks and later learned to operate heavy-equipment. During the course of his career, Ledieff was capable of doing every job associated with landfill operations.

Over the Years
In 1972, he drove a water truck that watered down the landfill’s roads where needed, later joining the dirt crew and operating a scraper for many years. He also operated the ripper CATs for a long time. Because he had the class-A license, he would go down to the South Gate Transfer Station and help out when they got behind. He started from the bottom and learned everything he could to advance his career at the landfill. “One day I was running a load of trash from Palos Verdes to Puente Hills,” says Ledieff. “One of the supervisors said there was an opening for an early shift and asked if I was interested. I said I’d take it. It worked out well because I was able to spend my afternoons with my family and help out my wife.”

Technological advancements in truck and equipment operations made his workday more efficient and productive. “When I started in the sanitation districts, equipment all had stick shifts. At that time in the 1970s, everything was solid seats and by the time I left, I was running a D9N, which is high-sprocket tractor, that had bogies on it, cushioned seats and the air conditioning; it was fantastic. It was a big improvement on the equipment. Our first scrapers were open air and the same with the tractors. When the 657 E scraper came out, they had a cushioned ride, air seats, 8-speed automatic transmission, and all the controls were at your fingertips–it was like getting into a luxury car. It was such an improvement; it was unbelievable,” he says. “When pushing trash, going from a D8H to then D8K to a D9N was amazing. You were pushing three times the trash and the production was phenomenal. With that size, power and the torque, you could push 22 tons of trash without batting an eye, whereas before you were moving a 10-ton load and shifting all day long. One of the big improvements in solid waste transportation was the application of the walking floor trailer. These trailers made it so much easier to unload trash.”

All that experience made him an asset to the landfill. Having proven himself an able worker and team leader, he was tasked to supervise a service crew. “I also ran the service crew back in the early 2000s for a while. It was really interesting,” says Ledieff. “There was something new every day. One month, we used 138,000 gallons of fuel—that was the biggest month I saw while running the crew. We were running 15 or 16, 657 scrapers and had all the support equipment that went with it. Tracking of parts, fuel and oils was a challenge in an operation of our size. Due to the diverse nature of the position there was never a dull moment. I supervised a crew of eight and they did a great job. An operator is only as good as the mechanics that support them. My favorite job was running the service crew because I had such a broad range of responsibilities. To ensure that we ran efficiently, there had to be strong communication and management of the whole maintenance crew. Documentation was key in this process.”

With the closure of the La Puente landfill looming, Ledieff found himself back to operating heavy equipment. “The administration economized positions. I found myself back on a tractor for my remaining years at the landfill. I worked with some great people. In some instances, I made lifetime friends,” says Ledieff.

Industry Changes
“As you know the solid waste and recycling industry has always been dynamic. Due to regulations and governmental overreach you could never predict the future. Back in the 1970s, recycling was barely a blip on the map. The goal back then was to landfill everything and capture the natural gas off the landfill. That is no longer the case. CalRecycle is doing everything in their power to keep anything they can out of the landfill,” says Ledieff.
“Now I’ve seen a lot of changes in technology. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, walking floors were in high gear. The first walking floors were chain driven. The current floors latterly “walk” the material out. With current roll-offs, you have trailers that you can run two or three at a time. In addition, in the 1970s everything was stick shift and in 1971, they came out with the automatics. Even the compactors today are a lot better.”

Advancements in the industry have made the job better for drivers and operators than in past decades. “The technology for the air and steering is great. It has changed in leaps and bounds to make it more environmentally friendly for the operator and safety has improved,” says Ledieff. “We used to operate open tractors and every once and a while, one of us would get hit by flying debris. It was just part of the job—we survived it. Back then, everything went to a landfill unless you worked for a company with a transfer station. I worked for Western Refuse Hauling, which owned a transfer station, so I would do a lot of hauling out of Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach and would run to their transfer station in Carson. There were not many transfer stations around, so routing became very important to increase the profitability of the truck.
“Many of the dumps in the valley were open 24/7. When it was busy, especially with construction—you could be dumping out there all night. Transfer stations were built open air and every day we had to wash it down and get it cleaned up, so when you drove by it on the weekend, you wouldn’t know that was where they dumped trash,” says Ledieff. “That was regulation: everything had to be washed down and spit shined and polished before Saturdays, because the sanitation district had a rotating schedule and there were always people there working on the weekend.”

Even though Ledieff retired earlier this year, he believes that one of the biggest things that the industry needs to deal with is keeping more open areas for collection in the cities, not just franchising it out to certain people when it goes to bid where only the big companies are the ones that have a shot at it. Says Ledieff. “This would give people an opportunity to get into the trash business. Right now, certain companies can’t bid on contracts because you have to have so many years of experience, etc.”

In addition, he says recycling is, and always will be, a challenge. “The markets have been extremely volatile the last four years. Our dependence on China has been a huge challenge over the past two years. We need to look domestically for solutions and stop relaying on the overseas markets,” says Ledieff.

Lessons Learned
“The districts were a blessing and I was able to do different jobs—that is one of the reasons I stayed there. It was a good place to work all those years. Long ago, at the beginning of my career in the industry, I had researched moving over into construction. However, I found that the one thing you had working at the landfills is you know where you are going to work every day and you know you are going to get a paycheck. With construction, although you will at times make more money, you are driving to multiple places and there will be situations where you’ll have to stop due to weather, etc. I also considered going to go to work for a private landfill, but at that time working for the districts, I was getting up on the ranks and I was on the early shift from 5:45am to 2:15pm, so I was able to be really involved in raising a family. It was a great opportunity. The job and my family are my blessings in life from God. Keep your faith and he’ll take care of you,” says Ledieff.

“The one thing I would like to share with incoming industry professionals is that when you meet or talk to someone, look them straight in the eye and show them who you really are. Don’t make excuses, just tell them like it is. That will tell you a lot about a person. Be straight shooter. If there is an issue, work it out. Life is too short to play
games.” | WA

Paul Ledieff can be reached at [email protected].