I’m Upset: Garbage trucks are too loud


I’m Upset: Garbage trucks are too loud


It is a tenet of the app-based meditation I do every morning that one should be mindful of the sounds that surround her. She should hear and listen with curiosity and appreciation, and let the sounds pass. They should flow through her like water. Sadly I’ve found this is impossible to do with the sound of garbage trucks, as they are so fucking loud that it is completely fucking stupid and insane.


That’s the sound the current, primary method of garbage removal makes probably about 30 times in succession, per street, as it moves from chunk of houses to chunk of houses. (30 is a guess based on nothing.) I currently live on the second floor of a building in Brooklyn, New York, and my bedroom window is street-facing. My neighborhood’s garbage truck moves through my street around 6 a.m. on Tuesday mornings, which is very early, followed closely by the recycling truck, which is the same amount of loud, and then what seems to be another garbage truck (?). The garbage truck also comes on Friday mornings, but a little later. The trucks’ grinding, squeaking, booming, jet engine-level noise is inescapably loud from the moment they turn onto my street to the moment they turn onto the next, which seems to occur many hours later and in fact by that point I am dead. It is not appealing.

It is too loud.

I realize the seemingly uncouth and elitist nature of this complaint, as I’m sure you’re eager to point out, as if all annoyance-based complaints aren’t in one way or another born of privilege, and maybe you should take a look at yourself before you judge me. Oh you think garbage trucks are too loud, you’re thinking, maybe you should try working in sanitation for a single second; maybe you should try dirtying your soft writer’s hands with the soot of actual work and then come here and try to tell me that your complaint is that garbage trucks are — and I’m quoting — “too loud.”

I’ll give you that my chosen career is unsettlingly easy compared to most — for example in this piece I’m writing (for money) about how garbage trucks are too loud — but please listen. I don’t believe sanitation workers exist in their lives thinking, I’m glad garbage trucks are this loud. Do you? I don’t think they’re thinking, The ear-splitting volume of the trash-squashing mechanism in this stupid truck, and how I have to stand right next to it, is something about this job to which I am quite lovingly attached.

Garbage collection is a dangerous line of work, you know; the fifth-most fatal job in America, and particularly dangerous when we talk about private garbage collection, which services businesses and, according to that ProPublica link, removes about half of New York City’s waste. Broken equipment, temperature extremes, dangerous waste, and motor vehicle and pedestrian-related accidents are all of concern, particularly in the non-union commercial sector, as is the unrelenting loudness of garbage trucks.

A 2016 report from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health details this loudness:

“[Municipal solid waste] workers are exposed to elevated noise levels from collection vehicles, compactors, front end loaders, conveyor belts, shredders, and sorting equipment. During NYCOSH site visits to transfer stations and MRFs, conversation with a person two to three feet away was often impossible without shouting, a reliable indication that noise in the work environment is approaching or surpassing the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]’s 8 hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 decibels(dB).”

After this point, according to the report, OSHA requires that employees are given hearing protection, and that employers “implement feasible engineering or administrative controls to reduce noise exposures.” The report mainly concerns the horrendous private garbage collection industry (91 percent of the employees of which reported, per the NYCOSH survey, that they were not provided with hearing protection), but I think we can agree that — my ability to internalize and synthesize the particularities of the garbage industry in order to deliver a personal complaint aside — approaching or surpassing 90dB is too loud just in general.

Now that I’ve sufficiently shamed you, I’d like to tell you something else that I learned about through the anger-induced use of Google: a quieter garbage truck exists. Did you know this? According to Autoblog, Mack unveiled unveiled an electric garbage truck at WasteExpo 2019, which is what you would assume it is from its name.

“The Mack electric garbage truck is powered by four NMC lithium-ion batteries of an unspecified capacity and a pair of 130-kW AC electric motors,” says Autobog. Okay. “The motors provide a peak 496 (and 349 continuous) horsepower.” Okay. “The truck uses a two-speed transmission to send that power to the rear axles. It has regenerative braking, and can charge at …” okay, blah, blah, blah … “Furthermore, getting rid of the internal combustion engine helps to make the vehicle much quieter.” Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



This single electric garbage truck is slated to enter the New York City Department of Sanitation workforce in 2020. According to Jalopnik, Mack has plans to one day build more. I do not know the bureaucracy of garbage collection in New York City and whether the mafia-owned brands of trucks, whichever ones those are, will get on board with this green initiative, but at least for now (in the future) we (will) have (keeping our fingers crossed) this single, quieter electric Mack truck, used by municipal workers.

I greatly look forward to the day when my downloaded consciousness can complain to my great-great-grandchildren about the days when garbage trucks were too loud. Until then, all I can do is complain to you.

Garbage trucks are too loud.

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Kelly Conaboy is a writer-at-large at New York Magazine.