I had just decided that the sanitation trucks which come rumbling down my street at dawn—spewing diesel, making my house shudder, flinging the occasional recycling bin across the street with their robot arms—are a necessary nuisance for a city dweller. Until I saw this trash collection service that uses horse-drawn wagons.

Patrick Palmer’s two-horse team rides through the streets of Vermont, according to the AP, where he’s able to collect the garbage and recycling of 300 customers:

The thing I enjoy the most is the little kids coming out to see the horses. And I’ve trained maybe 20 kids to drive horses,” said Palmer, 68, who started the service in the neighboring village of Bristol 18 years ago. This spring, he expanded to Middlebury, a busier college town of more than 8,000, and he and his crew collect trash two days a week, alternating the two teams, named Jake and Jerry, and Pete and Paul.

After collecting the trash, Palmer steers the horses down to the collection station for the Addison County Solid Waste District where they unload their goods alongside the fleet of traditional trucks. The horses don’t seem to mind the rattle of their noisier co-workers.

This old-school approach is actually perfect in a state like Vermont, where a “pay as you throw” law was passed last year. In an effort to get everyone to cut down on waste, residents pay for trash collection by the bag, so it’s likely that these homes are putting far less garbage on the curb than the average American. Palmer’s service costs about $5/bag which is about the same as a regular sanitation truck. (Recycling pickup for everyone is free of charge.)

Besides charming their customers, the horse-powered trucks are a healthier choice for deploying sanitation services. The ambling gait of the horses are actually a better solution for the pace of trash collection, where the stop-and-go movement of trucks ends up burning a lot more fuel. The horses run on grass and completely eliminate emissions—besides, you know, the occasional road apple.

While the sheer volume of trash generated by most cities—looking at you, New York—would be far too much for a fleet of horse-drawn carriages to handle, this idea actually would work very well in many communities, especially when paired with a larger incentive to cut back on solid waste. Horses are embraced by police departments and other municipal workers so it’s likely that a city would already have a few on the payroll. These horses could require very little in the way of compensation—just let them eat whatever’s in the compost bins!

[AP]

AP Photo/Andy Duback