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2 West Fargo math teachers + 1 garbage can sanitation business = side hustle success

Bee Fresh Bin Sanitation officially kicked off on May 31, the last day of school. Since then, the fluorescent yellow-and-black trailer can be spotted buzzing around the metro area to rinse, power-wash, disinfect and deodorize garbage receptacles around the F-M area.

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Keith Urlacher (left) and Mark Adamson put the finishing touches on a recycling bin in West Fargo on Friday, July 22, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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WEST FARGO — The big trailer was painted such a garish shade of yellow and black that one wondered if it could be seen from space.

“It looks like a giant bee,” cracked Keith Urlacher, who, along with his friend, Mark Adamson, and son, Mason Urlacher, had just leased the Landa Power Wash Trailer in their quest to launch a garbage bin-cleaning business.

But as two middle-school math teachers who were just looking for a summertime job, Urlacher and Adamson knew sinking tons of money into a side business didn’t add up. They decided not to paint it.

So, with that innocent remark, a business found its name — thanks to some quick thinking by Keith’s wife, Robyn.

Bee Fresh Bin Sanitation officially kicked off on May 31, the last day of school. Since then, the fluorescent yellow-and-black trailer can be spotted buzzing around the metro area to rinse, power-wash, disinfect and deodorize garbage receptacles ever since.

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It can be dirty work — cleaning a plastic receptacle that holds rotten food and other rancid items which have marinated in the pouring rain or baked in the summer sun.

Mason, along with his friends Blake Berg and Coby Angeles, winds up doing much of the manual cleaning of the bins. They have encountered everything from rotten meat and maggots to curdled baby formula and soiled diapers in his work.

“It’s kind of a good diet,” quips Mason, who admits he rarely feels like eating afterward.

But Keith, who teaches at Cheney Middle School, adds: “there’s no judgment. We’ve all been there. Who has a spotless garbage can?"

At the same time, there’s a real demand for it. People regularly call local sanitation departments to ask them to clean out their garbage bins, Urlacher says. But when considering that West Fargo’s Sanitation Department alone picks up 12,000 individual garbage bins per week, it’s obvious that city workers don’t have time to individually detail thousands of grubby, grimy garbage cans.

Serious bin sanitation can also yield results so dramatic that even the pickiest homeowners gush about it. “I asked one customer what he thought and he goes, ‘They haven’t been this clean since we moved in seven years ago,” Urlacher says. “He was very pleased with it.”

Most of the peskiest of odors can be eliminated, although it may take several cycles of washing, disinfecting and deodorizing to get there, they say.

Even neatniks who powerwash their cans typically don’t have the capability to do so with special equipment and simmering-hot water.

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“It's typically about 180 to 200 degrees water is what it is,” Urlacher says of the Bee Fresh system. “So that comes in hot. It'll burn you."

It started with Dr. Sani-Can

The Bee Fresh crew believes they are the only business currently offering this specialized cleaning service in North Dakota. “A guy in Minot tried it but it just didn’t take off,” Urlach says. “It’s not a big enough area. Typically, population-wise, they say you probably need around 150,000 people in the area to kind of keep things going.”

But the local forefather of bin sanitation was probably Dr. Sani-Can , who familiarized locals with the concept of professional bin-maintenance. That business was owned by Brian Schielke of West Fargo, but he passed away in 2020.

Urlacher says he and Mason were out driving and trying to brainstorm a service or job both could do in the summertime. As they watched the countless black garbage bins and yellow-and-green recycling bins waiting out on the curb, they thought of Dr. Sani-Can.

The Urlachers also reached out to Keith’s friend, Adamson. “We called up Mark and said, ‘Mark, we have a harebrained — I mean, genius — idea,” Keith recalls, laughing.

“He came to me with everything after he kind of looked up and it wasn't a matter of was I going to (be a partner) as much as how soon was I going to say yes?” recalls Adamson, who teaches at Liberty Middle School.

Their original thought was to purchase Dr. Sani-Can’s trailer, but then they learned someone outside of the area had already bought it.

They moved forward anyway, starting out in late May with just a pressure-washing trailer. “We tried to make that work and one of the first weeks, we ended up with 42 bins in one day and we went, ‘Hmm, this isn't going to work,” Urlacher says.

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A few days later, Urlacher was on a Facebook group trying to learn more about bin-cleaning when one of the other members mentioned that they thought Dr. Sani-Can’s trailer had been purchased by Dave Bender in Bismarck.

Urlacher contacted Bender, who also happened to be a teacher. Bender said he wasn’t using the trailer at that time, so offered to lease it to Bee Fresh.

“It was insanely nice of him,” Urlacher says.

So once again, Dr. Sani-Can’s-turned-Bee-Fresh’s trailer made a beeline to West Fargo.

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Keith Urlacher sprays down a recycling bin in West Fargo at the Bee Fresh Bin Sanitation mobile station. Urlacher jokes that after the bins have been power-washed in 180-degree water, disinfected, deodorized and wiped down, you could "eat off them."
David Samson/The Forum

Until their new Bee Fresh signage arrived, they even operated for a few weeks with Dr. Sani-Can on the trailer.

Features extra trash-can TLC

As the partners learned all they could about “can-itation,” they also upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency. An especially important investment was a $1,000 four-headed, power-washing nozzle, which blasts banana peel barnacles and sticky cereal boxes off the inside of bins at 4,000 psi.

They also add some extra TLC to their bin-beautification.

First, they clean out any large pieces of garbage, like flattened boxes, which might be sticking to the bottom of the can. Then they rinse out the inside of the bins with hand-held pressure hoses.

The bins are then positioned right behind the trailer, where robotic arms hoist up the cans to be cleaned with hot water shot through the four-way nozzle.

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Mark Adamson operates the mobile Bee Fresh Bin Sanitation station in West Fargo on Friday, July 22, 2022. The robotic arm lifta up the bin to a high-powered, four-headed, 4,000 psi nozzle, which cleans the inside of the bin with water heated to 180 or 200 degrees.
David Samson/The Forum

The waste water is dumped in a 150-gallon storage receptacle on the trailer and the bins are set back on the pavement.

Many other bin-cleaning businesses stop at this point, the partners say, but Bee Fresh features an extra step. The workers use a “secret sauce” of eco-friendly disinfectant/deodorizer to wipe out the inside and outside of each can — just in case any stubborn gum or gunk has lodged itself into a crevice. The bin is then rolled back up the driveway, so the customer knows they’ve been serviced.

Urlacher and Adamson say they wouldn’t be able to sustain the business if not for the nimble joints and strong stomachs of Mason and his school friends. “We’re trying to be thorough and the boys definitely set the standard on that,” Urlacher says. “They did an amazing job starting out and just saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to clean the insides and dry off the outside.”

The partners invested in a logistics program to help them determine the most efficient route to take from customer to customer. Unfortunately, it turned out to be as complex as the Riemann Hypothesis . So Urlacher says he’s taken on the logistics role. Everyone also has become more adept at planning routes as they’ve visited neighborhoods which even these lifetime locals never knew existed.

At this point, Bee Fresh is serving West Fargo, Fargo, Moorhead, Horace, Dilworth and Harwood. However, they will consider driving to outlying areas if enough residents band together their bins, thus ensuring that the trip justifies the extra time and gas.

Even so, Urlacher says they have tried to keep their services affordable, even amid rising fuel costs. Prices range from $30 for one-time service of one bin and $50 for two bins to $120 for six total cleanings of one bin throughout the months of June, July and August.

A strangely rewarding side hustle

The partners say customers don’t need to be home to have their bins serviced. However, they do want the cans to be free of garbage, which means they have to keep close tabs on that narrow window between garbage or recycling pick-up and the next round of garbage.

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Bee Fresh Bin Sanitation partners Mark Adamson (left) and Keith Urlacher carry out the final step — wiping down the exterior and interior of a garbage can after it has been power-washed, disinfected and deodorized. The two men work most of the year as math teachers at Liberty Middle School in West Fargo, but opened the bin-sanitation business this year to generate summertime income.
David Samson/The Forum

They say the sanitation departments in Fargo and West Fargo seem to have appreciated the service. Now, when residents call those entities asking to have their bins cleaned, they share Bee Fresh’s contact information.

Urlacher and Adamson stress that the homeowners don’t need to worry about any of the waste water being dumped into their local sewer system. Instead, Bee Fresh has checked all regulations and gained permission to dump their waste water — with all excess garbage filtered out — at a local RV park, Urlacher says.

They hope to continue beautifying bins through Sept. 15. Next year, Urlacher says they hope to start in early May, so parents can gussy up their garbage cans for graduation party season.

In the meantime, they’ve found the work of transforming trashed trash cans to be strangely satisfying.

The homeowners are so appreciative, they say. “It’s a service, so people want you to do it,” Adamsson says. “Some of the comments that you get back, like they haven't been this clean since we got them new, the smell is gone or yeah, I’m not embarrassed about them anymore."

It’s also work that gets them out moving around, working in the sunshine and joking around with their college-aged coworkers, Adamson says.

“We both love our jobs, the kids and everything like that, but it’s something different. It’s a mental break,” Urlacher says.

An unexpected benefit has been the time that Urlacher has been able to spend with Mason, now 20 and attending nursing school. Especially more recently, when he and Mason drove to Detroit together to buy their own trailer.

“One of my proudest things this summer is just my son and I going on road trips and actually having real conversations,” Urlacher says. “ So Mason and I were in the vehicle for 40-some hours together. And, yeah, you learn a lot about each other. You sure do.”

Exclusive
With “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe set to visit Fargo next week, The Forum had the chance to peek behind the scenes of the metro area’s dirty jobs. Take a look at the hard work and dedication required to keep the city running smoothly.

Adamson says the experience has given him a whole new appreciation for what sanitation workers deal with in a given week. He says he now thinks twice about tossing a Dairy Queen cup in the trash without making sure it is tied up in a garbage bag first.

“It makes a huge difference,” he says. “At the same time, we appreciate people not using plastic bags because it helps us stay busy."

Learn more about Bee Fresh at https://beefreshbins.com/services/

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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