Mitthun defies stereotypes, innovates as garbage hauler

PIPESTONE -- Believe it: the lovely lady with the warm smile and perfectly groomed appearance is the sole owner of D'S Sanitation, the smallest -- but arguably the most innovative -- independent garbage hauler in Pipestone County.

Mary Jo Mutthun
Submitted Photo Mary Jo Mutthun has owned D's Sanitation, an independent Pipestone County garbage hauler, since 1986.

PIPESTONE -- Believe it: the lovely lady with the warm smile and perfectly groomed appearance is the sole owner of D'S Sanitation, the smallest -- but arguably the most innovative -- independent garbage hauler in Pipestone County.

"It's really funny," admitted Mary Jo Mitthun, who first moved to Pipestone with her husband, Maynard, in 1986 to purchase the business she still operates today, "but sometimes people say to me, 'You're a garbage hauler?' What do they want me to do, walk around with busted teeth and overalls?

"The image they carry in their minds of what a garbage business owner must look like apparently does not look like me," she continued. "People are still surprised to find women in certain professions they don't perceive as typically being run by women."

But Mitthun has persisted, defying stereotypes and overcoming changes and challenges to her business.

"We started out in 1986 with a one-man operation, with one garbage truck, but within that year, we had increased the business 100 percent and then some," noted Mitthun, who now employees six people.


"D'S was the first garbage hauler in Pipestone County to introduce the residential containers to the county, and the other haulers followed us," she said. "We were the first to have a semi-automated pick-up system, and we were the first to offer recycling for commercial accounts."

When the state of Minnesota first offered "score money" to counties if 25 percent of a county's garbage could stop hitting the landfills, Mitthun says she "got the recycling ball started."

But when the Pipestone area landfill was closed by the state -- and D'S along with other local haulers faced a drive to Marshall -- Mitthun was faced with a new challenge: How could D'S handle added fuel costs without passing on a major rate increase to its customers?

"We decided to have a transfer station for self-haulers, and we offer a roll-off service for dumpsters," explained Mitthun. "We were the first to have the roll-off service, and it's more economical for people to haul their garbage to us than for them to drive all the way to Marshall. We enrolled the city to dump in our facility as well."

Mitthun's personal crystal ball never showed her a future as a garbage hauler. in fact, she started out her professional life in a much more female-driven profession.

"I did hair for 20 years, and owned a four-operator beauty salon in St. Paul for 10 years," she shared. "I went from beauty to garbage, and learned the business quickly."

Basic business skills she honed as a salon owner transferred to her new arena, but what struck her the most was the amount of waste humans generate -- and how few of us are aware of its true impact. In 2011 alone, D'S Sanitation hauled 2,358 tons (well over four million pounds) of garbage -- and when one adds that to the totals hauled by Pipestone County's other garbage haulers, the figure is considerable.

"People don't realize their contribution to the environment -- their ecological footprint, so to speak -- and how much it helps when they recycle, when they are conscientious about disposing of their hazardous waste," stressed Mitthun.


"Putting fluorescent lights in the garbage is a 'No!' for instance; every town has a place for that disposal, but people don't think big," said Mitthun. "They think their little bulb won't hurt the environment, but we see the collective outcome of many people thinking their waste won't make a difference.

"We see when people throw their TVs, computers and batteries in the garbage, and they believe if they can get by with that, there's no impact," she said. "But if enough people do it, there are very negative results, and there is a major negative impact on our environment."

Mitthun advises citizens to become informed about where to take their recyclables and hazardous waste products rather than just throwing them in the garbage and hoping for the best.

"The state seems to put more emphasis on recycling glass, plastic and cardboard and less on how to dispose of hazardous waste, like white goods, electronics and paint cans with paint still in them," Mitthun observed.

Mitthun is grateful for her loyal employees, and emphasizes that the general population shouldn't underestimate the skill it takes to be an effective "garbage man."

"Driving those garbage trucks takes a special knack, just like anything else does," said Mitthun. "It's an art, like painting -- you have to have a talent for it, because you can't put just anyone in a truck and expect them to do it right.

"It's like trying to teach a person how to do hair when they have no talent for it," opined the one-time stylist. "They might learn how to cut, but believe me, unless they have the natural talent, they won't be good cosmetologists.

"People often warn kids, 'Get an education or you'll end up as a garbage man!' Well, they may not have the talent to be a garbage man, which is a very necessary job, in any case, and shouldn't be belittled," urged Mitthun, who knows from her experience as a woman working in what has more commonly been a male-dominated field what it feels like to be talked down to.


"A woman is labeled when she is powerful and shows authority, but it's usually a degrading label," mused Mitthun. "The world has changed some for the better in that way, but we still have a ways to go."

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