The History of Burney Disposal

Small Beginnings

In 1906, Angelo Ghiorso – a wheat farmer and widower in Poe Valley, Italy -- had finally saved enough money to send his son Giovanni to America.

Giovanni and his wagon back in 1906.

Giovanni and his wagon packing garbage back in 1906.

On April 14, 1906, a short time after arriving in the U.S., 17-year-old Giovanni set out to start his own garbage service in San Francisco. With borrowed money he bought a wagon and a team of horses and began packing garbage up and down the stairs, hills and streets of San Francisco. He packed the garbage from each account into a large metal can, which was attached to his back. When it filled up, he would return to the wagon to dump it and start the process again.

Four days later, on April 18, 1906, Giovanni was returning to the wagon to empty his can when the streets rose up, convulsing beneath his feet. Waves of concrete surged below the wagon as the infamous San Francisco earthquake struck the city. His wagon was destroyed and it took him a week to locate his horses. For a businessman who was already struggling to get on his feet, the setback was devastating. It took him seven years to recover from the earthquake, slowly repaying loans and rebuilding what had been lost.

Organization and Innovation

In the wake of the earthquake, a group of garbage men joined together to support one another and secure a stake in the city. They called the group Sunset Scavengers, which still exists today under the name Recology Sunset Scavengers. After five years with the company, Giovanni sold his share and moved to Santa Clara, where he started Santa Clara Scavengers.

During his time in Santa Clara, he founded the first cut-and-fill landfill in the U.S. and became one of the first American recyclers. Giovanni and his wife Merculina had three children. The youngest, John, stuck close to his father, learning the garbage business as a boy before going into the Navy as a young man. John decided to pursue farming rather than continue the garbage company after getting out of the service but eventually, after marriage to his wife Ruth and the birth of his eight children, he was called back into the family legacy when a small garbage company in Burney, Calif. went up for sale.

A New Generation

It was 1977 and Tom Ghiorso, the second of John’s eight children, was working in Reno, Nev. One night, Tom received a phone call from his father about the small company. John and his wife Ruth were going to sell their small parcel of property and use the last of their money to purchase the company. They would provide the initial capital if Tom would run the business.

On December 13, 1977 Tom, like his grandfather before him, took a leap of faith and started his own garbage collection service. Two years later, Tom bought the garbage company in Fall River Mills, Calif. and combined the two: Burney Disposal was born.

Two years later, in the winter of 1979, Tom pulled his truck into the Whitman’s Christmas Tree Lot in Burney. When he jumped down from the truck, there stood Gwen Whitman with a bag of garbage. Gwen and Tom were married September of 1981 and together, with the help of family, the two built Burney Disposal, Inc. into what it is today.

A Look To The Future

Today, Tom and Gwen have welcomed their youngest daughter Elizabeth into the Burney Disposal family as the new director of communications and human resources. Elizabeth represents the fourth generation of Ghiorsos in the garbage company.

New Horizons

As of April 1, 2019 Burney Disposal, Inc. proudly welcomes the City of Mount Shasta into its service umbrella. The new Mount Shasta division represents a partnership between the City of Mount Shasta and BDI. The are proud and honored to extend our reputation for community involvement and service excellence to our neighbors to the North.