Garbage bag full of jewelry en route to landfill saved by HWMA heroes

The $10K TRASH BAG The recovered contractor bag loaded with Holly Yashi jewelry gifts. Photo courtesy Holly Yashi

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Monday, Nov. 27 was Holly Yashi employee Jim Gridley’s birthday. But he wasn’t taking it easy. When Gridley got to work that day, he noticed a black contractor bag of garbage in the shipping department that someone hadn’t taken out.

So, diligent worker that he is, Gridley took care of it, tossing the black trash bag into the Ninth Street factory’s dumpster.

The dumpster was soon emptied by a Recology Arcata garbage truck, which completed its route and headed to the Humboldt Waste Management Authority’s (HWMA) Hawthorne Street Transfer Station.

From there, the bag would be “tipped” to the floor along with the 170 tons of waste HWMA collects every day. It would then be loaded onto one of the dozen or so semi trucks that transport garbage each day to the Dry Creek Landfill outside of Medford, Ore.

One problem: the bag Gridley tossed wasn’t garbage. It was full of jewelry – $7,000 to $10,000 worth.

The previous Friday, shipping personnel had loaded up six Postal Service bags with Christmas orders of jewelry ordered from Holly Yashi via its website. But they were one mailbag short, so they used a sturdy contractor bag for the rest of the shipment. It was placed alongside the postal bags for pickup by a carrier.

But the postal folks didn’t know the black contractor bag was intended for mailing, so they left it there. And the stage was set for Monday’s misadventure.

When Holly Yashi co-owner Paul Lubitz came to work that day, the mood was subdued. “They almost didn’t want to tell me,” he said.

“We kinda went into panic mode,” said Operations Manager Bob Pabst. That accomplished, they called Recology’s Arcata office, which referred them to HWMA.

With Recology’s help, the waste authority was able to identify the truck the bag was on while it was en route to the transfer station.

On arrival, the truck was received by Operations Supervisor Helder Morais, Lead Operator Aaron Manson and Operator Phil Graziose. It was directed to an isolated area, tipped and the load of garbage dumped on the floor.

Armed with the route information, Morais and crew went after the needle in the haystack, or in this case, the baubles, bangles and beads in the trash mound.

“We have a pretty good idea where material would be in the compactor,” said HWMA Executive Director Jill Gillespie Duffy. “Then it’s a matter of wading into that muck – everything that people throw away.”

According to Duffy, the crew identified the Holly Yashi bag in less than five minutes and extracted it from the surrounding morass of discards.

Back at Holly Yashi, where Gridley was busy “freaking out,” according to Pabst, news of the recovery was well received.

“They did a fantastic job,” Pabst said. “Their turnaround was just phenomenal. It was an hour and a half from the time we made the call to when they had it in their hand.”   

Had the bag eluded recovery, it would have been a multidimensional calamity for the iconic Arcata jewelrymaker. There would have been the loss of up to $10,000 in merchandise, all of which would have to have been remanufactured at additional cost of materials and labor – and in a hurry to fulfill the Christmas orders, without sacrificing quality.

But even that could happen only after they’d somehow figured  out which orders had been in the missing bag, and which had actually been shipped in the six others.

Each of the mailbags contained 20 to 30 boxes, and each of those held one to 10 pieces of jewelry.

“It would have been a total nightmare,” Lubitz said, shuddering at the thought. “We would have had to figure out who and what, and remake it all.”

The company tried to reward Morais and his crew with gift certificates and jewelry, but the hyperethical government-affiliated workers turned down the gratuities.

“Our guys really do amazing work,” Duffy said. She credited all involved, including the trash collectors who provided key recovery information. “Recology deserves a shout out as well,” she said. “It really was a collective effort.”

Lost and found

Duffy is no stranger to recovering lost items, professionally or personally.

Last year, a residential customer had bought his daughter a new car. No, it wasn’t thrown away, but its keys were.

The daughter had been doing yardwork and placed a sweater with the keys in a pocket on top of a trash can, then forgot and left it there. When the trash collectors came, the sweater and car’s only set of keys left with them.

On receiving a panicked call from the father, the HWMA figured out the route, where the load was and where in that load the keys likely were.

“We found them,” Duffy said. “We can’t do this for all things, but with some notice, we will work really hard to try and find these things.

Even more miraculous was an incident in Duffy’s own life. At age 14, young Jill Geist took a bath in her upper J Street home in Arcata. Following her mother’s orders, she carefully placed her grandmother’s gold wedding ring on the side of the tub. But as it drained, she somehow brushed the 1887-vintage ring into the tub, and down the drain it went.

Seventeen years later, in the mid-1990s, Duffy was a lab technician who analyzed water samples at Arcata’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. One day, a Public Works worker named Charlie Clinton walked in. He’d been repairing a sewer line at 18th and G streets when he found – you guessed it – a ring stuck in a pipe.

He walked into Duffy’s Corp Yard  lab to show her the thing he’d seen glimmering in the pipe. “And there was my little rose gold ring,” she said.

She didn’t recognize it at first, since its pearls and garnet had fallen out, nor did she make the connnection. She mentioned to Clinton that she had once lost a ring down the drain, one inscribed with “From Ed to Carrie.”

Clinton thought he’d been pranked – that the other guys at the Corp Yard who knew about it had tipped Duffy off. “Who told you?” he asked. But no one had.

“It’s your ring,” Clinton said, handing it to her. She’s since had the heirloom ring re-set with new stones.

“We need more happy stories,” Duffy said.




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