Zen and the Art of Cart and Tipper Maintenance

Sept. 1, 2009

There are few “manuals” on how to run solid waste businesses; operators have learned, much like the Zen Buddhist masters of the past, that direct experience reveals the path, rather than manuals. One such experience is that clients, whether private or public, have tightened budgets, and it’s the innovative waste operators who will win and retain the business.

Increased automation has allowed collectors to operate with smaller staffs while also increasing safety and productivity. As is often the case, automation required changes in the entire collection process. Plastic trash bags or round metal cans would not work with new systems; homeowners were steered toward flip-lidded plastic containers designed to mesh with the new hardware. By the same token, it made sense to develop trucks, or adapters, allowing waste operators to service residential curbside as well as commercial dumpsters without the need for a fleet of various vehicles—all with different parts and maintenance challenges. Once the new technology was in place, maintenance became the key to keeping the operation running as smoothly, and as cost-effectively, as possible.

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Lifter Adapters Create Double-Duty Trucks
Operators that mainly collect commercial waste often use front/top loaders; the design efficiently lifts and empties commercial dumpsters. However, for “bags at the curb” residential use, such trucks were problematic; the lifter bars are useless for bagged waste, and imagine the rotor cuff injuries for workers continually tossing heavy bags far over their heads. Metal and even plastic cans pose similar problems.

In the city of Chula Vista, CA, residents use the automation-style trash carts, and its waste hauler has adapted its trucks to allow it to empty such carts. “We provide residents with carts for recycling and trash, but they can use their old cans for yard waste,” says Lynn France, the city’s environmental services program manager. “Allied Waste, formerly Pacific Waste, is responsible for the cart maintenance.”

Managing municipal solid waste is more than landfilling: publicity, education, engineering, long-term planning, and landfill gas waste-to-energy are specialties needed in today’s complex environment. We’ve created a handy infographic featuring 6 tips to improve landfill management and achieve excellence in operations. 6 Tips for Excellence in Landfill Operations. Download it now!  

Allied has fitted its trucks with the Curotto-Can (www.thecurottocan.com), manufactured by Sonoma, CA’s Curotto-Can Inc. This bin/lifter allows Allied to derive double-duty from its front loaders. The can is attached to the front lifters, along with a grabber, which lifts the trash carts from the curb, and empties them into the can. When the Can is full, it’s then lifted and dumped into the truck, much as one would do with a dumpster—and this is all achieved without the driver leaving the truck cab.

France explains the city’s role in the process. “When planning the 2002 transition from bags, we looked at various trash carts to work with this process. We discovered there were different types of molding used to create these carts—blow, injection, and rotational.

We concluded injection-molded items don’t seem to hold up to the sun, so we decided upon Toter carts.” The reason for the change? “A large part of it was for safety; also, these carts are getting rid of blowing litter, because the lids are all attached. We decided on 96-gallon carts, which equal three ‘traditional’ trashcans. We operate with a ‘pay as you throw’ trash rate; citizens had to make the adjustment.” Roughly 60 to 80,000 households are within the jurisdiction.

“This system also saves wear and tear on the driver,” she continues. “With a side loader, the driver can’t really see the operation. With bucket in front, the driver can look at the trash being dumped, take out something that’s wrong, and tag the customer’s cart. He doesn’t have to crane his neck around.”

Rob Hutzler, who’s in charge of Allied’s maintenance, explains that citizens own and maintain the carts within the city limits. “When a resident moves, they call us, and we’ll clean it, and distribute it to someone else in the city. If the carts get broken, we replace them, and recycle the plastic. We also maintain the lifters on the trucks; they’re a hydraulic system, but they need to be greased, and receive regular maintenance. We might have to repaint them every couple years.”

When a company’s already invested in a truck fleet, and the area it serves changes procedures (from bags to carts), adding lifters to its fleet is a welcome money saver. Athens, GA’s AAA Sanitation, which services 5,700 area households, chose products from Romeoville, IL’s Perkins Manufacturing Co. (www.perkinsmfg.com).

“We chose Perkins’s rotary tuckaway tipper,” AAA Sanitation’s President Matthew DiPalma explains. “These were retrofitted to our rear loaders. We have four in our fleet right now. The tipper grabs the tip of the can and empties it into the truck. They’re maintenance-free—no grease or oil. I’ve never done a thing to them except wash them when we wash the truck. The tippers don’t hold debris or anything.”

DiPalma’s firm has been using the Perkins products for about five years. “The previous brand we used was unsatisfactory, plus the company had poor customer service. In contrast, Perkins’s customer service is unbelievable; reps call about every two months, just to see if all’s OK. Yes, their products cost more, but they also have more warranty. If something breaks, they don’t ask any questions, they just send the parts and it’s fixed.”

David Schoener, sales rep for Irving, TX’s Equipment Southwest, expresses similar satisfaction with Perkins products. “We’ve carried its products for 10 years now; they sell well. Perkins is the oldest, the leading manufacturer when it comes to semi-automated devices. We actually also install and repair them as well. As far as repairs are concerned, they’re very limited, unless there’s an accident. With proper maintenance, Perkins lifters tend to last a good long time.

“Perkins has good customer service program,” Schoener goes on. Any end user can, and does, repair or maintain their own equipment. Perkins lifters don’t have a lot of moving parts, especially the rotary type, and the unit is encased in metal. Of course, any pivot point needs greasing—at least every 40 hours. ‘Maintenance-free’ is part of our sales pitch when selling Perkins. Another advantage to its units—they’re also ‘tuck-aways;’ operators don’t bust kneecaps when walking around the bed. Perkins is always researching and developing new technologies. We recently delivered a new unit to the University of Texas at Austin: a Perkins-designed, fully automated side loader. We’re hoping this PAC-2 system will be bought by UT; it has a small chassis and a great turning radius, perfect for campus use. Such a unit would allow the university to move from three-man to one-man disposal crews.”

Texas Disposal Systems (TDS), which collects for around one million households in Austin, San Antonio, and outside various Texas cities, had increased reliability and decreased cost in mind when choosing Perkins lifters.

“Approximately three years ago I became the director of maintenance for TDS, and one of the issues I needed to address was maintenance costs,” says Edwin Ivester. “At that time, we were using at least four different types—makes, models and manufactures—of cart tippers, which not only required us to stock multiple parts in inventory but also were very unreliable. Of the four we were using, one manufacturer stood out ahead of the others due its quality—we never had to repair them. I did research, collecting data and specifications, before I made the decision on what tipper we were going to use based on our requirements: Quality—we must reduce down time on routes and become more efficient; reduction of the amount of parts inventory; ‘Service after Sell’ must be there; the lifter had to be able to work with commercial pickup and residential—to pull ‘double duty,’ so to speak; the lifter could not take away from the looks of the truck; and it needed to be safe and easy to use.”

Photo: Texas Disposal Systems
Perkins’ lifters are retro-fitted to end loaders; one or two lifters can be mounted. The lifters tuck away, reducing injuries to crews working around the truck.

The choice was made: “I found the D6080C Perkins tuck-away tipper was the perfect fit for our company. The service is there. Perkins tippers are easy to maintain and look great; I’ve never had a maintenance or manufacture issue in the past 18 months that wasn’t covered under warranty. When I changed to the Perkins tipper, my attitude wasn’t that we were incurring an additional cost; we were upgrading to a system that would be more reliable and decrease our down time, which in turn would be more efficient and cost less over a few months. I was correct!”

“Ease of maintenance” pointed Joe Wilderman, superintendent of vehicle maintenance for the city of Savannah, GA, toward lifters from Greenville, SC’s Bayne Machine Works Inc. (www.baynethinline.com).

“We changed to Bayne in 2001; we were using different lifters before that time,” Wilderman says. “Bayne offered us ease of maintenance. We did a test and had really good success; Bayne lifters are easier to work on. Regular maintenance is usually all they need, if they’re not damaged in operation. We don’t have to maintain them that often, just every once in a while, we’ll maybe have a seal leak, which is easy to repair.”

Wilderman theorizes that Bayne’s design is a factor. “Most other brands are run by a motor; this is a rack-and-pinion system—that seems simpler. Also, the lifters, the Thin Line, create less bulk on the vehicle.”

The simplest of maintenance is needed. “They run best if they’re clean; that task is left up to the operators,” he says. “We now have 35 rear-loader trucks with lifters, and that’s why we bought Bayne; they work with read loaders, although we recently bought some side loaders. Savannah is an old city, and the way it’s set up, with massive old trees, et cetera, it’s hard to operate a side loader in many areas. Plus, a rear-loader truck is cheaper. Further out in the county, in subdivisions, there are wider streets and it’s easier to use side loaders there.”

Each of Wilderman’s trucks collects from 800 to 1,000 homes a day. “We recently started a recycling program, so there may be more than that. The city owns the carts and maintains them, but it’s up to the homeowner to keep them clean; we looked into a truck that would clean trash carts, but it was an expensive and slow process.”

Travis Doane, Parts Manager for Dover, OH’s J&J Refuse, prefers lifters from Welcome, NC’s Diamondback Products (www.diamondbackproducts.com). “Proper mounting of the cart lifter is key to make the hopper in the truck work. We’ve been using the 100-24 model for about three years. We like it because it has fewer moving parts; we’ve used several kinds before, and we like Diamondback. They require very little maintenance—maybe get greased once a week, and we make sure they get steamed off. There are too many moving parts in other brands, which make them more likely to wear out.”

J&J Refuse has contracts for its city. It serves private clients and commercial, as well. “We use rear, side, and top loaders,” Doane says. “As we have to hook the can onto the lifter, we use a three-man crew. Residential clients are provided a 90-gallon poly cart. So far, Diamondbacks are the most reliable we’ve had—the lifter really speeds up the process. We bought our own Diamondbacks and installed them ourselves. How they work is pretty basic—except for damage, like another truck runs into us, there’s otherwise no breakage.”

Good Karma for Carts
When moving to an automation system, specific compatible carts must be chosen. In many instances, to ensure full compliance, the waste hauler not only specifies the model, but it also often retains ownership of the trash carts, so it’s imperative that the carts are sturdy and can be easily maintained.

Photo: Otto Environmental Systems
Otto carts are sturdy, easy to empty, and available in colors.

In Sherwood, OR, Pride Disposal Co. has been using rolling carts for most of its 23-year existence. “We own the carts,” explains owner Mike Leichner. “We rarely have to replace them; they have a 1% or 2% failure rate. Usually there are only changes if customer moves, in which case we clean them up to reuse them—or if someone changes the size of his cart, which, in this economy, usually means a smaller size.”

Leichner’s firm uses carts from Charlotte, NC’s Otto Environmental Systems (www.otto-usa.com), which produces injection molded carts for residential use, including a Split Cart that can handle multiple waste streams, and a wildlife-foiling Bear Saver. Otto’s commercial containers are also plastic, and the firm also makes lifters, grippers, recycle bins, and “public” containers.

“Each cart has its own serial number, assigned to an address,” Leichner goes on. “Sometimes people pick up any cart—if there are many at one location, such as in a flag lot, et cetera—but they need to have their own cart to ensure they’re being billed for their own trash.

Residents receive a 90- or 95-gallon cart for recycling, a 60-gallon cart for yard waste, and for regular trash they can choose what size they want. Recycled glass is separated into 14-gallon red bins; all carts are color-coded for what trash they contain. The carts don’t really require much maintenance. Our fleet contains a semi-automated tipper, for which a worker has to get out to place the cart on the truck; we use that in rural areas. However, we also use fully automated vehicles.

“The only problem we’ve had with the carts is of our own doing,” he concludes. “Our company colors are grey and red, with a maroon logo on it. As that red faded in the sunlight, we went to a white logo on the carts.”

In southern Ohio, the Rumpke Co. uses carts from Los Angeles, CA’s Rehrig Pacific Co. (www.rehrigpacific.com). “We’ve used their carts since the early 1990s,” reports Body Shop Supervisor and Purchaser Jerry Truman. “We use Rehrig’s residential carts, recycling carts, and bins. The majority of our trucks are rear loaders, although we have some automated side loaders. In the almost 40 years I’ve worked here, we’ve purchased toters, carts, et cetera, testing to see what holds up, and Rehrig holds up much better than others. They offer a 10-year unconditional warranty. We use the 95-, 65-, and 35-gallon models. We own the carts, and I do the maintenance on them in our toter barn. Maybe I have to replace axles, wheels, lids, or the catch bars on the bottom. I don’t have to replace them that often, unless they receive ‘abuse,’ such as being overweight, or a lid pin snaps. If the carts need any work, we pick them up, fix and clean them, then assign them to a new customer. We haven’t seen any UV-fading problems at all. In 10 years, carts are as nice as the new ones, brown with black lids. And they’re strong. We use a caustic chemical to take the stink out, and that doesn’t hurt them.”

The town of Cary, NC, which serves 40,000 households, switched from backyard collection to curbside in 2006. “When we did that, we changed to fully automated trucks, side loading grabbers,” says Scott Hecht, solid waste division manager. “That, of course, meant we had to go to a standard refuse cart.” The company wanted an injection-molded cart, he says, so it put out bids, checked references, and went with carts from Charlotte, NC–based Schaefer Systems (www.ssi-schaefer.us). “We haven’t had to maintain them much,” Hecht says. “Maybe a busted lid, wheel, or axle from time to time. We offer residents 65- or 95-gallon carts. For recycling, we have about 35,000 65-gallon carts out. Carts are color coded, to differentiate trash from recycling. We prefer to not clean carts for customers; we will swap them out if broken, of course. We think these carts will have a useful 10-year life; right now, we’re not thinking weather or UV rays will be an issue, but who knows.”

The switch to an automated system is a mixed blessing. “Automated trucks save money with lessened crews and they increase safety. It’s more cost-effective to have uniform trash receptacles. However, automated trucks cost more and need more maintenance than old end loaders,” Hecht concludes.

Keeping It Clean
Basic cart maintenance begins with cleaning. As plastic trash bags have long been a staple in North America, some cart users likely still toss bagged trash into their carts, which keeps the unit fairly clean.

However, others who may have seen a steep price increase with the new system often toss unbagged trash directly into the cart, which causes a mess. Some households are charged with cleaning their own carts; sometimes, it’s done for them. Most of the time, though, the carts are only cleaned when they’re retrieved and bound for another resident.

Tacoma, WA’s Solid Waste Management Facilities Supervisor Jim Nunn found that swap-out cleaning was becoming a chore, so he purchased a cleaning unit from Rancho Cordova, CA’s Aaqua Tools Inc. (www.aaquatools.com).

“We’ve had ours six months, although I’m thinking of getting another one—that’s how much I like it,” Nunn says. “As the city ‘owns’ the carts, we usually only collect and wash carts when a customer wants a change-out. We’ll leave a new cart, wash and repair the old one, and reassign it. Each cart contains a bar code so we know which house it belongs to.”

Nunn’s AaquaBlaster CartClean will effectively clean a variety of carts, from 20- to 90-gallons. “We have the unit in our yard, and hook it up to a pressure washer. We use it daily. As we usually have three crews running, there’s always someone who wants a swap-out.

When the refuse price goes up, residents ask for a smaller cart; their costs are calculated by cost size. Of course, then they find the smaller cart isn’t big enough for their needs, and want the larger one again,” he chuckles. “We allow them to change once a year.” Tacoma residents receive three carts: one for trash, one for recycling, and one for yard waste, all which are color-coded. “There’s no charge for yard waste. Everyone usually gets a 90-gallon cart, which is picked up every other week, as is the recycling.”

Cleaning is much easier with the AaquaBlaster CartClean. “Before, we were just using a pressure washer, placing the cart on the ground, bending over with the wand,” says Anaconda Disposal Vice President Tom Krumm from his office in Anaconda, MT. “Now, cleaning carts is a piece of cake. We’ve had ours for about a year, and it works great.”

Anaconda Disposal doesn’t usually collect and clean carts on a regular basis. “Carts are retrieved and cleaned before being send out to another customer,” Krumm says. “Unless someone calls and says, ‘It stinks!’ Then we do it; it’s never been a big deal or issue. Of course, we only serve 6,000 households.”

Security = Maintenance
Commercial clients are increasingly using security measures to maintain their dumpsters. In essence, they’re vulnerable to two kinds of “identity theft”: thieves raiding the trash for customers’ credit card information, and “phantom tossers”—people who empty their trash into a business’ dumpster, which then gets charged to the business. Locking the dumpster can lessen these problems, but that can also cause hassles for the waste collector. The collector needs to carry a huge wad of keys for each dumpster; locks can get broken; the waste trucks spend more time idling at a location; and the whole unlock/dump/relock process costs the waste company time and trouble.

Fort Myers, FL’s Waste Pro decided this was a serious problem, so it equips its dumpsters and trucks with locks from Halethorpe, MD’s Serious Industries (www.seriouslock.com). “The dumpsters contain a Serious bar,” Waste Pro Regional Vice President Keith Banasiak explains. “When the dumpster is lifted and emptied into the truck, the bar is released. The driver doesn’t have to get out of truck. When the container is put down, it relocks itself. Customers can still have their own key and lock; when they unlock it, that’s their way to get it open. We open it when it’s upside down.

As Waste Pro owns the dumpsters, “…If the customers want a locking bar, I put a Serious lock on it, which requires considerably less maintenance than the competition’s,” Banasiak says. “I haven’t had to perform maintenance on most of them; they’re virtually maintenance free, unless they’re not installed right.”

Once the item is explained to the client, the Serious Lock is seen as a win-win for all concerned. “Customers don’t have to worry someone’s dumping into their containers, which they have to pay for—or worse if someone dumps a prohibited substance into it. Also, if it rains, and the dumpster lid is open, the customer’s also paying us for the weight of the water. And, in some instances, we also have to pay for that water in tipping fees,” he explains.

“The old way of padlocking a dumpster—the truck is idling longer, drivers have to get in and out of trucks, up and down—could add three to five minutes per each waste removal. That might not sound like a lot, but considering the truck’s daily route, using a Serious Lock on every dumpster could add 300 minutes of productive time to a driver’s day.”

Waste Pro’s coverage area (Bradenton, Ft. Myers, and surrounding areas) entails approximately 6,800 commercial dumpsters.
“Right now, 10% are using the Serious Lock bar; we hope to increase that. It’s in customers’ best interest to have the lock bar; they can save themselves money. I have a contract with Sanibel Island, the small sanctuary barrier island, which has problems with raccoons. It’s mandatory there to have bar locks, to keep the critters out of the trash.”

Sometimes, the Serious Locks have to contend with serious critters. “We made the national news in May when a 150-pound black bear roughed up one of our dumpsters. Go to YouTube and search ‘Ft. Myers dumpster bear.’ That certainly was an interesting way to get our name in front of the public,” he laughs.
About the Author

Janis Keating

Janis Keating is a frequent contributor to Forester Media, Inc. publications.

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