Garbage by Leonard Dominic Stefanelli

“Garbage” is a book about waste management in San Francisco. Waste Management is what we call garbage removal nowadays, but the book “Garbage” teaches us that originally the garbage industry was known as “scavenging” in which house trash was collected using burlap and loaded into a horse-drawn wagon, later the trash-filled cans were lifted onto the mens’ backs and emptied into the garbage trucks.Garbage

“There is a rich history about the San Francisco scavenger companies after the turn of the twentieth century,” writes the author of “Garbage,” Leonard Dominic Stefanelli. The “old timers” were from northern Italy (from the Province of Genoa, near and around Fontanarossa) and they “lived in boarding houses, where as many as six scavengers would live in a single home, sometimes sharing a bedroom. An Italian woman would cook and wash their clothes. On weekends, they would make and drink wine and play bocce ball, horseshoes, and Pedro. All week they worked and saved their money so that they could bring their families from Italy and eventually buy a home here (San Francisco).”

Mr. Stefanelli details the history of Sunset Scavenger Company from the founder Emilio Rattaro’s arrival in San Francisco in 1904, to his 1912 organizing the scavengers in the Sunset by consolidating and assigning service areas allowing them to stop competing with one another and now make a shared profit. Waste was dumped in San Francisco Bay past the San Francisco-San Mateo county line from 1906 to 1966. “In 1952, when U.S. Highway 101 cut across the bay from Sierra Point and north past and through Candlestick Hill, the drivers on the new freeway noticed the horrible rotten egg odor.” The 15′ high fence one sees near the Brisbane off-ramp is the same fence that was then constructed to lift the odor over the automobiles.

In 1965 Mr. Stefanelli became President of the multi-million dollar a year Sunset Scavenger Company. The politics with the City of San Francisco and within the waste management industry are described by President Stefanelli, as well as the controversy the Board faced in modernizing the garbage vehicles. “My infamous speech at the California Academy of Sciences in 1966 with the now especially infamous commentary, “Madam, until you have had the joy of inhaling a fly, live maggots crawling down your neck, and warm watermelon juice drizzling down the crack of your ass, …” gave me confidence to speak in public, especially because I knew my subject. In time, I became known as a leader in the new and complicated field that began to be called solid waste.”

“Garbage” is both the memoir of Mr. Stefanelli and a history of San Francisco. You can buy via the publisher, University of Nevada Press, and I’m sure you can locate it on Amazon. You can read Mr. Stefanelli’s obituary on SF Gate.

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