Making Intelligent Choices

Before choosing the components of a collection operation, you have to know what you want. Identify your need, decide what procedure or type of equipment will fill that need, review the properties of the equipment, weigh the costs and options, find out who manufactures the equipment, then make your choice. All of the products, procedures and systems for the solid waste industry will work, with varying degrees of success, under varying conditions. So how do you choose?

Your rationale for change can range from a desire to improve operations, satisfy a new demand for services, correct a deficiency or renew worn-out equipment. Whatever the problem, be sure to understand it completely. Try to determine the financial or political costs of solving the problem.

The next step is to visualize what might solve the problem. Can it be solved in one stage, or would it take more? Sometimes one phase must be up and running before the next phase can be implemented. Are there future options that must be allowed for now? Can reordering your present resources solve the problem? It's important to perform a cost-benefit analysis of all the options.

Talk to other professionals who are facing the same problem, especially those in similar circumstances. Peer group advisory programs at national solid waste organizations can be invaluable. However, avoid copying specifications that may have been successful in another jurisdiction, unless the problems that were solved are identical with your own. Something that worked in Southern California, for example, may not do so well in Bangor, Maine.

Once you choose a solution, begin the search for equipment, personnel and consultants. Consider the type of equipment you need. Choosing components is a matter of fitting the procedure or product to the profile of the solution you've developed. Keep an open mind and think generically. For instance, instead of saying, "I need a rear loader like 'X'," say, "I need a vehicle that will do these things and will be guaranteed to perform under normal conditions for 'X' number of years." Talk to manufacturers of the types of equipment that interest you. Listen closely to their representatives; they may have ideas you haven't yet considered.

After the solution has been in place for a while, reevaluate the problem. Has it been solved? Did you solve the original problem only to create a new one (an almost inevitable process)? If it was the first step in a chain of actions, are the other steps the same now as you originally visualized? Be critical of how well the solution worked.

Remember, each piece of equipment works differently in each set of circumstances. The least expensive solution is the one that solves the problem best, regardless of the cost. Only you know what the problem is and what the solution is worth.