Local Army veteran David Swaintek has always had a passion for environmental sustainability. In fact, his first job out of the service in 2008 was as a project manager for a California-based wind power company. So he and his wife Hanna Swaintek, a sustainability consultant, were intrigued when a family friend introduced them to JDog Junk Removal, which strives to prevent 60 to 80 percent of the items it collects from ending up in landfills. They soon after launched their own franchise called JDog Junk Removal Lake Union in March.
Although Swaintek was originally attracted to the opportunity to reduce landfill waste, he was surprised to learn that junk removal could be such a visceral experience. Some of their customers were in fragile states, and their clutter was loaded with emotional significance. For instance, one woman they helped during their training in Philadelphia was grieving over the loss of her boyfriend who had fallen ill and died.
“The outward reflection of that depression was that she just stopped cleaning her house and stopped taking out the trash,” Swaintek says. With hunched shoulders, she greeted them at her door and abashedly showed them rooms that were overflowing with recycling and trash she’d allowed to pile up over several months. It was a total mess. But once they packed her discarded items into a trailer, the sight of her newly cleaned home brought her to tears. “We were able to get … garbage out of her house, and out of her life, and from there out of her mind,” recalls Swaintek, who credits his eagerness to help others and customer services skills to his Army training. They also once found an envelope with $750 in savings bonds that fell out of a box. The owner was thrilled, because she’d lost it several years beforehand.
Clients mostly learn about JDog Junk Removal Lake Union by spotting Swaintek’s camouflage truck with the logo of a bulldog donning an army-green hat. “There’s a lot of demand for this service right now,” Swaintek says. “In our area, you can order anything from the Internet and have it to your house in a few days, but the garbage collection only comes once a week. So I just noticed a lot of people who get things stacked up in their house.”
Unlike other junk removal and hauling companies that simply dump items at waste transfer stations, JDog Junk Removal Lake Union sorts out the metal, clean cardboard, and appliances for recycling. Then they unload the filled trailers at the North Transfer station in Wallingford by hand to further ensure that the recyclable materials are properly separated. Useable household items, books, and furniture are sent to donation centers such as the Goodwill, while electronics go to a non-profit that refurbishes computers for underserved communities. The Pennsylvania-based junk removal and hauling company is also unique in that the 130 active franchise locations throughout 35 states are exclusively owned by military veterans and their families. Swaintek plans to only hire military veterans as he expands the franchise in the future.
In light of new recycling regulations imposed by China on the first of the year, Swaintek’s company could also help reduce the burden on landfills. Long known as the world’s largest importer of recyclable materials, China recently implemented a policy that banned 24 types of waste, including certain types of plastics and mixed paper. The policy also ordered for a drastic reduction in the amount of contaminants China accepts. Recycling materials are considered contaminated if they get too dirty or soiled by hazardous chemicals, oil, food, and liquids.
The new Chinese restrictions have caused a bottleneck for the hauling companies that the King County contracts to process recycling. As a result, items that can’t be recycled are piling up. Republic Services, a hauling company contracted by Seattle Public Utilities, has already requested that the company be allowed to offload some of the recyclables gathering in their halls to a landfill in Eastern Oregon, according to King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks spokesperson Doug Williams.
King County seeks to address the buildup of waste at the recycling facilities through a task force comprised of city representatives and solid waste haulers. The group will meet for the first time in late April. Seattle Public Utilities has not yet responded to the invitation to join the task force.
Despite King County and Seattle’s outreach efforts, Williams notes that many residents remain unaware of the recycling standards, and unknowingly contribute to landfills by attempting to recycle items that aren’t accepted. “The most important step people can take is to follow proper recycling guidelines to keep the overall contamination rate of collected recyclables as low as possible,” said Pat D. McLaughlin, director of the King County Department of Natural Resource and Parks’ Solid Waste Division, in a statement. “Ensuring recyclables are clean, dry, and empty helps them retain their value.”
That’s where JDog Lake Union comes in. Although they don’t pick up curbside recycling, Swaintek says the franchise is aware of the contamination regulations, and they ensure that recyclable items are free of contaminants and properly separated.
Williams says he believes that small hauling franchises like JDog Junk Removal Lake Union—ones that take the time to separate recyclables or donate materials—could serve as part of the possible solution that the task force is seeking. “Any company that works to keep recyclables out of the landfill—and certainly if they can be reused and have a second life—that’s a fantastic idea.”
To celebrate Earth Day on Sunday, April 22, JDog Junk Removal Lake Union will host a belated launch party at the Boxcar Ale House in the Magnolia. The party starts at 11 a.m. and will feature a catered brunch, live music, and prizes consisting of some items that their customers discarded.
Swaintek originally thought he would collect some of those “goofy” items that he’d found at clients’s places, but he concluded that, “I would have a house full of stuff if I did that, and I’m not interested in that.”
Just like his customers, Swaintek believes that there’s no need to hold onto old junk anymore.