Automation by the Numbers

Waste Age's recent survey uncovers the benefits and challenges of automated collection.

The Biggest Benefits of fully automated residential waste collection include increased route productivity and decreased workers' comp claims. Meanwhile, increased truck maintenance and repair costs and handling bulk waste are among the greatest challenges posed by the technology. Those are among the findings of Waste Age's recent survey of more than 200 private waste firms and public sanitation departments.

We are presenting the survey's results in two parts, and Part One, which detailed respondents' answers to questions about semi-automation, appeared in our February 2008 issue (“Automation by the Numbers,” p. 40). Part Two focuses on answers to questions about fully automated collection and also includes some broader questions about automation.

When those that use full automation were asked about its two biggest benefits, increased route productivity was the most frequent answer, appearing in 63.2 percent of the responses (41.1 percent of those responding listed it as the biggest benefit, and 22.1 percent listed it as the second biggest benefit). Decreased workers' comp claims was the second-most cited benefit, appearing in 37.9 percent of the responses (22.1 percent of those responding listed it as the biggest benefit, and 15.8 percent listed it as the second biggest benefit).

As for the challenges, handling bulk waste was the most frequent answer, with 49.5 percent of the responses mentioning it (21.1 percent listed it as the biggest challenge, and 28.4 percent listed it as the second biggest challenge). Increased truck maintenance and repair costs was the second-most cited challenge, appearing in 36.9 percent of the responses, but was actually the most commonly cited “biggest challenge,” with 23.2 percent of those using full automation listing it.

The survey was e-mailed to 21,340 subscribers of Waste Age and the Waste Age Wire e-mail newsletter. In all, 409 surveys were returned, 207 of which were from private refuse firms or public sanitation departments and therefore usable.

Approximately 66 percent of the respondents were private waste firms, the rest sanitation departments. The respondents represented firms/sanitation departments of all sizes, with 24 percent servicing fewer than 1,000 customers and 23 percent servicing more than 100,000.

In all, 70 percent of the respondents indicated they use either semi- or fully automated residential waste collection.