Automatic for the Hauler

Haulers find that automated collection improves productivity and reduces injuries.

Automated trash and recycling collection is spreading across the waste industry. Why? Haulers say automation provides a long list of benefits: improved safety, increased productivity, lower worker’s compensation costs and decreased labor expenses.

Depending on the size of the fleet and the nature of the collection area — urban and dense or rural and spread out — companies and municipalities shifting to automated collection can expect to see some or all of these benefits.

Haulers can automate in several different ways. They can purchase new automated trucks, of course, or they can equip existing front loaders or side loaders with attachments that allow the trucks to perform fully automated service.

The Truck Route

The municipalities of Seymour, Ind., and Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, both opted to automate collection routes with side loaders from Labrie Environmental Group.

Just more than a year ago, Seymour’s Public Works Department replaced three manual rear loaders with two automated side loaders. “Productivity went way up,” says Dick Wilde, the city’s director of public works. “We collect from 6,300 households, and it took three manual trucks five full days [to run all the routes]. The automated trucks run five days, but they are back before noon each day.”

While productivity is up, labor costs are down. The department went from using three workers on each of its side loaders to just one driver per truck. “No one was laid off,” Wilde says. “That was important to the City Council. Several retired, and we re-assigned the others.”

Wilde calculates that within 18 months the labor savings will pay the premium for the equipment and the 8,000 cans the city bought to go automated. After that, those savings will be available for other projects.

Other benefits include savings on fuel and tires — the happy results of fewer trucks doing the job faster. And since the driver doesn’t have to get out of the truck in traffic or lift heavy trashcans, there are fewer injuries, Wilde says. “We went from $53,000 in worker’s comp injuries for the first nine months of 2009 to zero worker’s comp injuries for all of 2010.”

Port Coquitlam in British Columbia has had a similar experience since using side loaders to collect trash and recycling from 11,000 single-family households and 3,000 multifamily units. “We went from 250 days lost due to injuries per year to zero,” says John Dundee, the city’s manager of common services, which include sanitation.

The Automated Republic

Phoenix-based Republic Services Inc. began automating its fleet four years ago. To date, the company has bought about 3,400 automated trucks for solid waste and recycling fleets in Republic divisions across the country. “We will continue to automate,” says Mike Davis, vice president, operations support for Republic. “We have found that there are positive gains in productivity and reduction in crew size.” The savings, adds Davis, pay for an automated truck in about three years.

Republic aims to prevent layoffs from automation and has a policy of training helpers that are interested in working toward commercial driver’s licenses so that they can move into driving positions, Davis says. The company also tries to reassign helpers that are not interested in driving to other jobs.

The great benefit of automation has been improved driver safety and reduced worker’s compensation costs. “Automation reduces exposure of helpers to traffic hazards,” says Republic Safety Director Shawn Mandel. “The industry sees between four and seven serious or fatal injuries per year when distracted drivers crush helpers against the trucks. Because there are no helpers behind an automated truck, automation should eliminate this risk.”

Injuries from lifting cans and slipping, tripping, and falling while entering and exiting the cabs have declined as well. “Thanks to automation, our worker’s compensation costs declined by 19 percent in 2010 compared to 2009,” Mandel says.

Getting Attached

Of course, buying new trucks is not the only way for a hauler to implement automated collection. At Waste Pro of Florida in Fort Myers, regional vice president Keith Banasiak has outfitted 15 front loaders with collection can and lift-arm attachments from Sonoma, Calif.-based Curotto-Can Inc. The devices attach to the front of the trucks and allow the vehicles to perform fully automated residential collection. When the can is full, the front-loader arms dump its contents into the truck, just as the waste from a commercial bin would be.

Banasiak’s operation collects waste and recycling from 135,000 residential customers and 8,000 commercial customers. The Curotto Can front loaders collect garbage from 70,000 of the residential customers once a week. Ten automated side loaders made by Wayne Engineering of Cedar Falls, Iowa, pick up the recycling, also once a week.

“Our contract with the city allows residents to set out unlimited trash,” Banasiak says. The front-loader attachments allow drivers to pick up items — such as furniture, bags or boxes — that an automated side loader arm may not be able to get.

The attachment works well in cul-de-sacs, too. “It is difficult to position a side loader close enough to a cul-de-sac curb to pick up the can,” he says. “If you get too close, the truck will get onto the property.”

Furthermore, if one of his commercial front loaders needs maintenance, it’s easy to remove the attachment from one of the residential front loaders and send it on a commercial route, Banasiak says.

In Niles, Mich., Michiana Recycling and Disposal Services collects residential trash and recycling with six side loaders and six rear loaders. About a year ago, Michiana President Henry Valkema automated the six manual side loaders by installing side loader attachments from Romeoville, Ill.-based Perkins Manufacturing.

“The attachments have knocked about an hour off of the routes we run with the side loaders,” Valkema says.

Valkema does not, however, plan to automate the rest of the residential fleet. “We do a lot of subscription work, and we have a number of rural routes where we need rear loaders to pick up residential as well as rear loading commercial containers,” he says. “We use the automated side loaders on routes that are more dense. That’s where they are useful.”

Michael Fickes is a Westminster, Md.-based contributing writer.

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Sidebar: Can You Count on the Safety Benefits of Automation?

Will every hauler that automates a fleet enjoy safety benefits at the levels reported here? No one knows for sure. Manufacturers promote safety benefits, and virtually every hauler claims to have received them upon automating. But there has been no broad research to confirm these claims.

There is, however, a study currently underway. A year ago, the Environmental Research and Educational Foundation (EREF) funded a grant proposal to study the results of automation. Pamela McCauley Bush, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and Debra R. Reinhart, a professor in Central Florida’s Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering Department,
are leading the $180,271, two-year research project.

The study will assess and compare the ergonomic and biomechanical issues associated with manual, semi-automated and automated waste collection operations. “We are talking to collection workers and asking what injuries they’ve experienced,” Reinhart says. “In addition, we’re bringing student volunteers into the lab to recreate the tasks that collection workers perform so that we can study the biomechanical motions. We also want to correlate what we learn about biomechanics with data on fatal and non-fatal injuries collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the past 10 years.” — MF

Sidebar: WasteExpo and Collection Fleets

The 2011 WasteExpo conference program includes the “Communication, Safety, and Tracking Technologies for Improved Collection Operations” and the “Balancing the ‘Wants and Needs’ of Truck Purchasing” sessions. The former session will take place on Monday, May 9, from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. The latter session will be held from 3:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the same day. Both sessions are part of the Collection Technology track.

Additionally, a day-long “Effective Maintenance Practices for Public and Private Fleets” will be held on Tuesday, May 10.

For complete information on these and other show events, visit