'I always wanted to be a garbage man'
Ozaukee Disposal celebrates 50th anniversary

By Sheryl Popp - Special to Conley Media

July 2, 2019

 Pictured are father and son waste disposal operators Jason, left, and Rich Behling.
Photo by Sheryl Popp

CEDARBURG — Ozaukee Disposal is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the waste disposal business. Without much fanfare, three generations of the Behling family have served their clients and achieved a reputation for fair pricing and reliable service.

“My father started the business in the late ’50s or early ’60s,” said Rich Behling. “His name was Leroy but everyone called him Kid. He had a Ford pickup with a couple of drum barrels in back. He advertised in the News Graphic and got his first customers.”

Behling began driving with “Kid” when he was 10 years old.

“I was younger than that,” said Jason Behling, Rich's son. “I remember I was 8 and took naps in the truck’s cab.”

The Behling family has deep roots in its little corner of Cedarburg. Behling’s grandfather built most of the homes on their block for his family. The street was nicknamed “Behling Place.”

The business still operates there, as it always has, and Rich Behling’s family has been in the house next door for 36 years.

Kid Behling always worked for himself, as a handyman, a school bus driver and a rag and copper picker, among other jobs.

“He had to drive to Milwaukee to sell what he picked,” said Behling. “When he started to pick up garbage, no one else hauled rubbish around here.”

After they were older, one of Kid’s sons became first vice president of the business and Rich Behling was second vice president. His sister worked in the business as well.

Today, in addition to Rich and Jason Behling, Behling’s wife, Joanne, does paperwork and billing and they have four additional drivers on the payroll. They have four garbage trucks and two box trucks.

“We have had some very interesting trucks over the years,” said Rich Behling.

Over time, disposal sites, a.k.a. “dumps,” have come and gone. Beginning with 5 Corners, then a site on Pleasant Valley Road and Highway I, and finally the Waste Management site on Wasaukee Road.

“When we began,” said Jason Behling, “everything was just garbage. Wisconsin began recycling in 1995. All companies had to offer recycling then, but all customers did not have to comply.”

Before then, the business could be reimbursed for taking in cardboard, glass and picking up paper during paper drives.

“We still take in our aluminum, although it’s not worth as much,” said Rich Behling.

Ozaukee Disposal has never done residential pickup in Cedarburg. Their customers are primarily businesses in Grafton, Cedarburg and Mequon. In Mequon, however, residents may choose their refuse collector – and there are a goodly number of longtime residential customers there.

“We are the only company that will drive up to a home to collect trash,” said Rich Behling. “Some people have long drives, or they're disabled. We charge them a modest fee for that service.”

Business is good enough to keep everyone busy Monday through Friday.

“We get all of our new customers from word of mouth,” said Rich Behling. “We keep things simple,” said Jason Behling. “We don’t have contracts and we're competitive with the big guys. One big issue for us, though, is that within the last year, costs of recycling have increased due to tariffs with China. We are trying to hold off raising our rates as long as we can. Another factor is that what is accepted as recyclable has changed so much. We do our best to educate our customers about that. If they sort better, it saves time and money and helps keep our costs down.”

Rich and Jason Behling are men who have been happy to remain in their family business.

“It was rough going at first,” said Rich Behling. “I thank God that things turned around for my family.”

For now, the business will continue as it always has, in the family. “I would like to keep it going,” said Jason Behling. “I had a conversation with my third-grade teacher a while ago. She told me that I always said I wanted to be a garbage man.”

Ozaukee Disposal can be reached at 262-377-4640.

Contact Ozaukee Disposal

W55 N363 Park Lane Cedarburg