Collection’s Changing World

Aug. 16, 2014

There are challenges with various collection operations, such as attracting, training, and retaining qualified labor, for example, or the impact of climate on collection activities. Many are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward converting to natural-gas vehicles, citing vehicle freeze-up problems associated with the significantly cold weather this past winter.

The challenges can be amplified for the many independent haulers around North America, many of whom are taking a pass on new technologies, saying the need isn’t there or the costs are prohibitive. On the flip side, the owners of those operations point out that their strength lies in personalized service. Some family-owned operations will be leaving it to the next generation to solve the challenges.

Eddie Guy has been in the business for 47 years. He owns Togo Disposal in Milwaukee, WI, offering services in trash collection for the commercial sector with two rearloader trucks, which he owns.

The collected trash is taken to a landfill in Milwaukee.

The trucks have no GPS, sensors, or cameras, and Guy does not use route optimization. He outsources the mechanical work.

There are about 130 stops on the route. Guy says filling the tank up weekly with diesel costs his business about $800 a month.

Guy says one of his biggest concerns is dumping fees.

“I’ve seen it go from $6 a load to almost $500 a load,” he says. “I really don’t know why it is so high.”

Jerry Martell owns Modern Disposal Systems, which operates in Sparta and Tomah, WI.

The company provides residential, commercial, and industrial hauling and recycling with 32 trucks. The fleet includes rear-load trucks, rolloffs, side-loaders, and hook-lift trucks.

The rear-load trucks are for the commercial route and for the residential cardboard recycling routes.

Modern Disposal Systems has 1,200 commercial accounts and 800 to 900 rural route customers. The trucks run daily. The waste is hauled to the Monroe County landfill.

The single-stream recycling program includes glass, tin, plastic, aluminum, and paper. The recyclables are taken to Johns Disposal Service in Whitewater, WI.

For commercial construction products, the company has a grinder for grinding shingles for asphalt recycling.

“We run all diesels,” notes Martell. “We’ve got later model trucks and are not doing too bad on the fuel economy. We do a lot of work on route layout for efficiency. It’s hard, because in the wintertime they don’t run efficiently, and this winter we went through a pile of fuel.”

Martell says he’s getting about 4 miles per gallon on the Lodal Evo trucks, about 6.5 to 7.5 miles per gallon on the rolloff trucks, and about 10 to 12 miles per gallon on the hook-lift trucks.

Like many haulers, Martell is holding off on changing over to natural gas.

“Not until I’m a little more pleased with what’s happening,” he says. “A lot of those trucks were freezing up in this neck of the woods because of the subzero temperatures. Because I don’t have those types of trucks, I was able to have my trucks out on the road, but some of my fellow haulers had equipment they just couldn’t get to start.”

All maintenance is done in-house at Modern Disposal Systems.

Finding qualified mechanics is a challenge, says Martell, who serves on the diesel advisory board for the Western Technical College in LaCrosse, WI.

“There is 110 percent interest in what’s going on there,” he notes. “There are more jobs than there are students, and with these CSA regulations that are out now it’s impossible to get drivers.”

High schools in the area are no longer preparing students for such work, Martell says.

“Up here, they’ve shut down the industrial tech programs in the high schools. There’s no way to get these kids up and going,” he says. “In the high school in our community, there are several of us who went there and actually got into an argument with the administrator because the school was selling off the welders and other equipment, and they were going to go to technology labs. It was just a nightmare.”

Credit: Rumpke
Checking for gas: CNG requires extra vigilence

Martell says the concerned group was told that the equipment posed too much of a liability issue. That came as a surprise to Martell, who says he spent time in small engine repair classes in high school without a problem.

Martell also has considered the impact that technological advances in the industry have on his operations, adopting what makes sense for efficiencies.

He foresees his company using RFID in the near future.

“The way things are going, you need to protect yourself as much as possible,” he says. “We’ve been looking at the camera systems. You always have those people who call to say the truck missed them on its route. My guys have gone down through there and they didn’t get their stuff out-they were late. We’re looking very hard at putting those on my trucks and actually recording the route and saying, “˜OK, we came past your place at 7:13 a.m. and your stuff was not out.'”

Martell has GPS in the rolloffs and cameras on the rearloaders.

However, he does not utilize route optimization software.

“That’s for the big companies,” he says. “I’m a small hauler. I know my routes, I know my customers, I know my equipment, I know my employees.”

Martell does use sensors that help flag maintenance issues. That has been helpful because after 2007, he stopped buying new trucks and focused his efforts on repairing and upgrading older trucks. He resumed new purchases last year, buying five trucks.

Martell is not interested in using technology to monitor driver behavior.

“My three sons are involved in the company with me. We’re a little different in regard to training our employees. We are out and about constantly and we observe the conduct and how our equipment is driven,” he says.

Martell owns all of his trucks and rather than to rent a truck, he keeps the older trucks that are in better shape for backup.

Looking to the future, Martell says he would like to see trucks that come with “proper specs.”

“You get people trying to sell you a truck that is spec’d a little lighter to save a few dollars, but down the road it ends up costing you money,” he says. “We’re very big on heavy specs, good horsepower, and we try to keep them as plain as we can. We found the more extravagant you get on the vehicle, the more costs you incur down the road.”

Martell had purchased lighter-weight packers and ended up eliminating them from his fleet because their performance didn’t hold up against older vehicles in the fleet.

Electronics is the biggest issue he has with newer trucks.

“The more stuff they put on, such as electronic relays, the more problems we have,” Martell says. “This winter, we had a lot of that stuff fail. I gave my boys hand-held propane torches. They would have to warm things up in order to get things to function.”

Martell says he didn’t have such problems during the bitter cold winters in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We didn’t have any issues, because we didn’t have the complicated electronics in the trucks,” he says. “We’re finding truck manufacturers have gone to multiplex wiring, and it is just a nightmare. They’re starting to change the designs now to accommodate things like garbage bodies that have a lot of moving components that need to be monitored.”

Martell says he would like to see manufacturers go back to a basic wiring system.

“My older trucks have an $18 air switch for brake lights,” he says. “My new trucks go through multiplex wiring and have relays.”

Martell says he’d like to see manufacturers issue five-year warranties, which would coincide with the bidding process.

“Most of the time, when you bid these jobs, you run for five years and you rebid the contract,” he points out. “I could buy a new truck knowing that I’ve got the manufacturer’s warranty for the next five years.”

Martell says his operation also is financially impacted by regulations.

“It’s going to be tougher for the industry to get help with all of the rules and regulations coming down and all of the people who monitor the solid waste industry,” he says. “You’ve got OSHA, you’ve got the department of transportation, you have your local environmental departments.

“Sometimes I get a little irate when I read these articles about how we’re such a horrible, dangerous industry,” he adds. “I don’t agree with that. There are bad players in anything, but there are companies like ours that stay on top of things and try to run safe environments.”

Martell says the tip fees in Wisconsin go into a general fund.

“They don’t even go into recycling,” he says. “They’ve taken away the funding to help our company and our customers to do a lot of what we need to do. It takes away a lot of money that we could invest in other things and instead we’re paying fees to these regulatory agencies.”

Tri-Lakes Disposal in Colorado Springs, CO, is a family-owned business in operation since 1997 with a mission to pick up its customers’ trash “in a safe, clean and orderly fashion in a timely manner.”

Brian Beland is the vice president. His wife Robin is the president.

The company’s 15 employees serve 10,000 customers a week in a five-county area, collecting residential and commercial trash, residential single-stream recycling, and construction rolloffs.

For residential services, rates are based on curbside pickup and expected trash volume. The company provides two different residential service levels-one is for up to three customer-owned 32-gallon containers per week, and the second is based on a 95-gallon, heavy-duty container provided by the company at no additional charge.

The second level of service allows customers to have five additional trash bags per week. The company also offers senior discounts, military discounts, special pickups for large or bulky items, and in-drive services at additional cost.

There are custom rates for special services, multiple pickups, or high volumes of trash. Single-stream recycling also is provided. The company also provides a recycling program to benefit school activities.

Container bin services are provided to commercial and residential customers, with rates based on once-a-week pickup. Collection rates are customized for those desiring more frequent pickups.

The company offers four different sizes of bins, including 2-yard, 3-yard, 4-yard, and 6-yard.

The company also offers rolloff container service with three sizes: 10-yard, 20-yard, and 30-yard.

The Belands like to offer that extra touch, such as committing to their customers to leave the property in a clean, litter-free manner, to secure trashcan lids and place the cans in a safe location.

For the single-stream recycling services, everything goes into one bin, which is collected two times a month, says Beland. Recyclables include plastics, glass, newspaper, magazines, cardboard, and paper products.

Tri-Lakes Disposal takes the recycled materials to the Bestway Disposal recycling facility in Colorado Springs.

What Tri-Lakes Disposal collects is driven by its ultimate destination, such as landfills or transfer stations that don’t accept electronic waste, hazardous materials, or tires.

For recycling, the company’s collection program is modeled after Bestway’s Waygreen program, which is single stream and encompasses newspapers and inserts, flattened corrugated cardboard, office paper, mixed paper, chipboard (cereal and tissue boxes), brown paper bags, steel and tin cans, plastics No. 1 to No. 7, glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans, empty aerosol cans, liquid detergent bottles, aluminum foil, pie tins, bulk or junk mail, plastic milk jugs, magazines, catalogs, phone books, vitamin bottles, yogurt containers, butter tubs, soda carrier boxes, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, food boxes (popcorn and microwave), and egg cartons that are paper based.

Items not accepted include plastic bags and plastic wrap, plastic plates or utensils, shredded paper, plastic caps, plastic egg cartons, polyethylene fiber, six-pack ring holders, overnight mailer folders, and polystyrene foam.

Tri-Lakes Disposal runs rear-loading trucks, some of which have cart tippers and some that don’t.

The fleet is aged, though some of the trucks get “decent mileage,” Beland notes.

“We do travel a lot of miles from stop to stop, especially in rural areas, and we’re not going to get great fuel mileage, but people need disposal and they need to have a recycle program, so that’s what we’re there to provide,” he says.

Beland says small businesses such as his cannot afford the cost of new vehicles that meet emissions standards.

“I’ve looked at different ways to control emissions in our vehicles,” he says. “Sometimes the cost of putting a hydrogen cooler in there to give you a little bit more fuel mileage and burn a little bit cleaner outweighs a $2,500-per-unit that can go into a safety feature, such as putting a cart tipper on the back of a truck versus the emissions.”

None of Tri-Lakes Disposal’s trucks run on hybrid technology or natural gas. Beland says he has several issues with such fuels, one being the price of the vehicles that run on them.

Beland cites another issue: “One of the problems here in Colorado is we don’t have a lot of natural-gas fueling stations.”

He echoes another problem voiced by others who experienced significantly cold weather in many parts of the country in the past year: “Natural gas has a tendency to freeze, and there’s nothing worse than downtime,” Beland says.

Beland outsources his company’s maintenance needs.

Tri-Lake Disposal’s trucks do not use RFID technology; Beland says he doubts he’ll consider it in the future. He may consider GPS when the company updates its current radio system.

Beland also doesn’t use route optimization software.

“I’ve been doing this for 26 years,” he says. “I don’t think anybody can optimize a route better than I can.”

He also doesn’t have cameras on the collection vehicles.

“When you start using camera systems, sometimes you take away the natural ability for drivers to become more aware of their surroundings,” Beland contends.

Beland doesn’t have sensors on the trucks, either.

“Usually, if it’s a safety issue, the truck is automatically down,” he says. “If it can be repaired that day, fine; if not, the truck doesn’t run until it gets repaired.”

Technology to monitor driver behavior also is something that Beland does not use.

“I’m not into productivity,” he says. “I think one of the biggest downfalls of large companies is productivity, because when you start forcing the drivers to become productive, you lose some of that personal contact with the customer, because they’re always worried about the clock. Do we watch it? Yeah, because after doing this so long, I know how long it takes pretty much to run a route.”

Beland says one of the issues he’s looking at going forward is the price of new trucks, which he says he finds prohibitive.

He favors rear-load trucks.

“We work in high-wind areas, and I feel they control the trash a lot better than front-load trucks when you’re dumping them,” Beland says. “I’d like to see it be cost-efficient for small companies to buy new trucks.

“Right now, if I was to go out and buy a new truck, it would cost between $185,000 and $215,000. That’s why, when we buy a used truck, we try to buy something from 2002 to 2007. At least we’re updating on some features, getting better fuel mileage and a little bit more compaction ratio.”

Beland says trucks should have a seven-year warranty.

“Some of the truck manufacturers have gone to a lighter body or less compaction,” he says. “When you start doing that, it forces you to have to go to the dumps more periodically during the day with the debris you’re taking. Especially in the C&D field, you have to watch what you’re compacting. We do some construction pickup on some job sites with rear-load trucks. It’s just efficient for the customer.”

Gary Decker is president of Best Waste and Recycling in Destrehan, LA, near New Orleans.

Citing health reasons, Decker sold off the solid waste portion of his business eight years ago and now focuses on recycling-small-scale bulk-to concentrate on his optimal capabilities. His business is equally divided between commercial and residential collections.

Decker has three employees and two side-loader trucks that engage in multiple-stream recycling efforts. Because of his operation’s proximity to refineries, he doesn’t struggle with fuel prices the way other companies might, Decker says, adding that he plans to stick with diesel trucks.

Looking ahead to vehicle replacements, Decker points out that he’d like to see manufacturers do more to adjust the “economies of getting emissions down pat.

“It’s scary that you would spend a great deal of money and the truck ends up in the shop, which seems like this is happening more with the emissions situation,” he adds. “We are literally going out of our way when buying or replacing a truck to stay away from the new ones because of the problems they’re having, the unreliability with the vehicles.”

In investing in his next new vehicle, Decker says he’d be happy to get a three-year warranty.

Although the trucks-which the company owns-have cameras, they do not have sensors.

“We have a good relationship with the drivers, and they report as soon as possible what is or could be a problem,” says Decker.

Looking forward in the industry, Decker says he sees where such technology as RFID would be useful, even though he doesn’t use it himself. He doesn’t view GPS as being equally important.

“With radios and telephones, the communication is good,” he says.

When Decker considers route efficiencies, he isn’t looking much at route optimization software as he is in implementing this approach: “The key is to do it early and get it picked up fast and get it done.”

Staffing is one of Decker’s biggest challenges, given the size of his operation. He cannot afford to have a mechanic on staff. He finds it tough to hire good people. He meets that challenge by the fact that he’s been in the area for a long time and hires people through word of mouth from those he knows. He makes an effort to retain them.

“If you get a good man or woman, you take care of them,” he says.

All in all, Decker says, business is good.

“There is plenty out there for me to do,” he adds.

Still, he noted a change since Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Before the hurricane, there were extensive recycling efforts, but after one of the levees broke, taking out an area processor, the recycling efforts in New Orleans diminished greatly, Decker notes.

“It’s small scale; nothing like what used to go on,” he says, adding that the stronger efforts in the state are taking place in Hammond and Baton Rouge.

Decker stands at a fork in the road with respect to company growth.

“It’s either get out of the business, or really try to hit it hard,” he says. “It’s my wife’s and my decision on how busy we want to be and what we’re capable of doing.”

Managers of municipal operations also are keeping their finger on the pulse of changes in collection options and how they affect the process.

Pitkin County, CO’s resource recovery operations serve about 17,000 residents, which can mushroom to 25,000 during tourist season, given Aspen’s attraction as a ski town, as well as the summer activities it offers.

The high altitude makes for a dry climate that presents particular challenges, notes Cathy Hall, solid waste manager.

“Dry presents challenges for dust,” she points out. “We are very dusty and don’t have a water source available at the landfill, so we have to truck in water. As well, we have a compost operation. If you’re going to use windrow turners, you have to keep the piles moist, so that’s a difficult challenge for us.”

There are three recycling operations throughout Pitkin. Prior to the end of April 2014, county employees would collect from those operations and do source-separated recycling.

Pitkin privatized the operations, awarding the contract to Waste Management and switching to single-stream recycling, including at the landfill. The driving factor was cost.

“The county was spending $350,000 to $400,000 a year just to service four recycling collection centers. By privatizing, we got the cost down to $180,000,” says Hall.

Doing so has alleviated some of the “burdens” borne by the county, she adds.

“We were acting as a transfer station,” says Hall. “We don’t have a MRF here in the county, so we would collect all of the source-separated recycling. We would bale the fiber, the cardboard, the newspaper and we had a broker take that away. Waste Management put rolloff containers here. The private haulers will bring material here as well. We collect it and Waste Management collects it and takes it to their single-stream MRF in Denver.”

By not having to do the routes to collect recycling, the eight county employees at the landfill have been shifted to more “beneficial” activities at the landfill, Hall says.

“We’re doing more work on the compost areas as well as staffing the household hazardous waste facility full time,” she adds.

Pitkin had planned to sell the baler in what was previously a MRF facility and convert the building into a “drop and flop” center, says Hall.

“People can bring usable items that, instead of going to the landfill, can be left for people to take,” she says. “We’re going to put the household hazardous waste facility in that building, which is going to improve the operation significantly.”

Going forward, county managers would like to see more availability of electric and hybrid vehicles for use in public works, Hall says.

“We’re hugely environmentally friendly,” she says. “There is a big focus in the public works department in wanting to buy this type of equipment with fuel efficiency and low emissions.”

Bill Ferrari is the solid waste manager for Cheltenham Township in Pennsylvania, bordering Philadelphia. The solid waste operation employs 16 people.

The township does trash and single-stream recycling pickup for its 9,600 residents. Greenwaste, such as tree trimmings and leaves, is collected in biodegradable bags.

Two dual-arm automated recycling collection vehicles are used to pick up plastics No. 1 through No. 7, glass, cans, cardboard, and newspaper.

Three rear-load refuse vehicles are used to pick up the trash four days a week, which is taken to Covanta’s trash-to-steam facility in nearby Plymouth Township.

The trucks are owned by the township, which services them with its own mechanics.

Although the carts are outfitted for RFID reading, the township doesn’t own an RFID reader. Ferrari says he’s not certain the township will be making that investment in the future.

The solid waste operation also doesn’t use GPS, route optimization, sensors, or any technology to monitor driver behavior.

Cheltenham does have cameras on all of its refuse vehicles.

“On the rearloaders, there are rear cameras, and on the side loaders there are three different cameras showing what’s behind you, what’s on both sides of you, and what is being dumped in the hopper,” Ferrari notes.

Ferrari says the one change he’d like to see in the industry focuses on legislation establishing special traffic rules when a refuse vehicle is stopped to make a collection, much in the same way that it is against the law to pass a school bus that is stopped to pick up children.

“We’ve had some pretty close calls, and I know other places have had fatalities,” Ferrari notes. “You really need to be doing five miles an hour around these men.”

Largo, Florida’s solid waste operations serve 2,000 commercial customers with 11 standard front-end loader trucks and containers and six rolloff trucks. It also provides garbage collection services to 18,000 single-family residences twice a week with an automated sideloader and once-a-week automated single-stream recycling services.

Largo also has yardwaste collection, conducted with a rearloader, and bulk material collection using a claw truck.

Each customer has an automated cart for garbage and an automated cart for single-stream recycling.

The trash is taken to Pinellas County’s waste-to-energy plant. The single-stream recycling is taken to Progressive Waste Solutions, which recently opened a new materials recovery facility in St. Petersburg.

Largo started its recycling program in February 2014. Doing so, it piloted a program using RFID, which the city eventually adopted.

“We knew we were going to use it in the whole fleet. We just wanted to make certain that the technology worked for us,” says Gene Ginn, assistant solid waste manager. “We use RFID, and we use electronic tablets in the truck that have the routes, the GPS and all of the reporting capabilities.”

The city also does route optimization, with efficiencies being the driving factor.

“We found that our residential program was on par with efficiency. What we found lacking because of the difficulty and complexity was the commercial truck routing with the variables of frequency of collection,” says Ginn. “Commercial collection was the driving force for route optimization.”

RFID has been helpful for residential collection to determine participation and where Largo needs to focus its market, Ginn says.

“We don’t need to focus our marketing in that 85 percent participation neighborhood,” he says. “The 45 percent participation neighborhood is where we need to spend the money.”

The RFID also is used for service verification for problem customers, Ginn adds.

“Our trucks get 2 miles to the gallon. I don’t need to send one 5 miles across town to pick up a single can because they forgot to put it out,” he points out.

Largo does have sensors available to monitor engines and other maintenance needs, but has not activated it yet, says Ginn.

“There is a lot of data coming in and we didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves at first,” he says. “Baby steps.”

Largo also has been using multicamera systems for quite a few years.

“They’re not recorded for safety as far as the driver goes-they’ve improved safety,” says Ginn. “We deal with unions. We don’t have recording systems.”

Largo owns its own trucks, which all run on diesel. The automated residential truck gets about 2.75 miles per gallon, Ginn notes. Although Largo has considered natural gas and hybrid technology, there are no immediate plans to convert, he says.

Mechanical issues are handled in-house. There are five heavy-equipment mechanics and four light-equipment mechanics. Finding qualified people is a challenge, Ginn notes.

Largo first looks to hire students from Pinellas Technical Education Center, which is where Ginn also went to school.

“We try to get them right out of school,” he says. “We also just restructured our mechanics’ pay scale to attract more qualified individuals into the field.”

When Largo’s solid waste operation looks at trucks, compatibility in the fleet is the most important factor, Ginn says.

“We want the engine and transmission to be similar, and we want durability,” he says. “We tend to buy the same type of vehicle and brand for fleet consistency.”

Largo only would rent trucks on a limited basis, such as cleanup after a hurricane hits the area, Ginn says.

Based on previous experiences, Ginn says he would like to see vehicle manufacturers offer a warranty period of three to five years.

“We have pretty good relationships with our manufacturers,” he says. “We’ve been using some new vehicles for many years, and they’ve made consistent updates in their products.”

It would be helpful to get driver input for further improvements, Ginn notes.

“Some of what they consider to be upgrades to a vehicle, the drivers don’t, because it makes their drive more difficult,” he says.

Case in point: a split mirror on the side of the truck.

“You can adjust two pieces individually of each other,” Ginn says. “In the past, it’s normally been one big solid mirror. The split mirror throws off their vision. Our drivers adjusted those mirrors so they were like the old ones. They work better.

“Driver input before making changes is important,” he adds. “That truck is their office for six to eight hours a day.”

Author’s Bio: Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to waste management and technology.

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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