Sanitation with Style

This month, communities across America celebrated Independence Day by holding parades. Most likely, none of those processions were led by garbage trucks. Nevertheless, a few exceptional folks in the solid waste industry are confronting the idea that their work necessarily must be dirty, dismal and déclassé.

For private haulers, well-appointed trucks represent both a point of pride and a means to set themselves apart in an increasingly crowded field.

“If you come driving down the street in a raggedy old garbage truck with the wheels falling off and holes in the side of it and rust all over the place, and a guy jumps out of the truck spitting chew, that's OK,” says William Birth of Maywood, Ill.-based Roy Strom Refuse Removal Service. “But the bottom line is, if you're in a very competitive marketplace where the other guys aren't doing that, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage.”

Meanwhile, local governments see eye-catching vehicles as a way to engage citizens in the proper disposal of waste, litter prevention and recycling efforts. These attractive, informative vehicles may be the most direct opportunity to communicate an important message while reinforcing civic pride.

Waste Age commends all of the entrants in this year's design contest. Your efforts help ensure greater respectability for our industry. The winners displayed on the following pages represent the cream of the crop when it comes to making garbage look good.

Best Overall

City of Oxnard, Calif.

As if life along the coast of southern California wasn't idyllic enough: Even the garbage trucks in Oxnard, Calif., (located just north of Los Angeles and south of Santa Barbara) sport pleasing views. Oxnard's Autocar/Amrep commercial front loaders and Autocar/Bridgeport residential side loaders are wrapped with images of dolphins frolicking in the surf and an admonition to “reduce, reuse and recycle.” The motif also extends to the department's uniforms, binders, pins and letterhead.

According to Don Smith, Oxnard's environmental resources manager, the trucks are more than a pretty picture. Coinciding with the sanitation division's renaming as the Environmental Resource Management Division (ERMD), the redesign represents the city's renewed commitment to resource recovery and protecting the environment.

“We're not just garbage men,” Smith says. “We're in the environmental resource management business. And with the new collection vehicles and the new mindsets of our customers, it's provided improved morale and pride of ownership with our drivers.”

The drivers aren't the only ones flocking to the new trucks. The new focus on environmental stewardship has struck a chord with residents. Smith says at local events the trucks outshine even that old warhorse of popular municipal vehicles: “With our new collection vehicles, we get more attention, more community outreach and more contact with the customers than the fire department does with the fire truck!”

Best Front Loader

Texas Disposal Systems
Buda, Texas

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of solid waste disposal? How about a pair of scimitar-horned oryx? Anyone?

Perhaps not. But according to Ryan Hobbs, director of operations for Texas Disposal Systems (TDS), these unusual animals, along with Grant's zebras and waterbuck, best represent his company's corporate outlook.

“We pride ourselves on service, and we think it's exotic service,” Hobbs says.

The animals depicted on the side of TDS's Mack/McNeilus front loaders reside in the company's 800-acre wildlife game preserve, located adjacent to its landfill. Containing approximately 2,200 animals from about 30 exotic species (many of them endangered in the wild), the game ranch surrounds a 1,000-person conference center and two guest cabins. The attraction is popular locally and internationally, and serves as a vibrant reminder of the company's commitment to the environment.

“Over the last four years, we've had 55,000 people attend events at this facility,” Hobbs says. “So we have a lot of people out in the community that are familiar with our charity work and our facility. This ties it all together.”

Currently, three trucks feature wildlife from the preserve. Hobbs says the motif will soon be extended to the rest of the company's fleet of front and rear load trucks, which should please area residents.

“We get maybe 20 calls a week saying, ‘I saw your truck. That is the neatest thing I've seen!’ So it's very well received.”

Best Side Loader

Roy Strom Refuse Removal Service
Maywood, Ill.

When the truck from Roy Strom Refuse Removal Service comes rolling up the block, residents probably do a double take.

While the vehicle may at first look like a fire truck, it's actually a state-of-the-art automated Mack/McNeilus side loader decked out in Roy Strom's trademark cherry red paint job. The motto “Keep collection day looking good” and a photo of the company's trash containers offer insights into the company's new “dual collect” service, a system of color-coordinated bins and automated trucks that allow trash and single-stream recycling to be picked up at the same time.

“When you see the containers out on the street with the company logo on them and you see the automated trucks, it really attracts attention to the service, to the program and identifies who we are,” says William Birth, the company's general manager. “I think people look at that and they associate cleaning up refuse collection day and convenience with our company.”

Roy Strom's dual collect program and new trucks are a direct response to a customer survey indicating a desire for a more convenient and aesthetically pleasing collection regimen. Birth notes that the clean, organized bin system portrayed on the trucks (and in real life) is meant to contrast with the piles of garbage bags, open recycle bins and other curbside debris many people generally associate with “garbage day.”

But as Birth sees it, the most important element of the design is simply the name on the side of the truck.

“The president and CEO of any one of the majors, their name is not on that truck. This guy's name is on the truck. Therefore, that means something to him. And he wanted to convey that image: This is who I am. This is who we are. This is the kind of service we provide.”

Best Rear Loader

kmG Hauling
Potomac Falls, Va.

Like a character out of Pixar's “Cars,” this truck from kmG Hauling seems to have a personality all its own. Sitting next to it at a stoplight, it's not hard to imagine it growling, “Wanna race?”

That kind of attitude can only help a company competing in the crowded metropolitan Washington, D.C., market. Company President Hugo Garcia says kmG's distinctive designs go a long way toward setting his company apart from other haulers. “What we're trying to convey to the client is, we take pride in the way our trucks look. Therefore, we're going to take pride in the service we're going to give them as well.”

The customized Mack/Heil rear loader is swathed in metallic blue paint and airbrushed flames that draw the eye to the company's logo and contact information. Garcia says drivers take an interest in the designs, often suggesting improvements. He occasionally offers a truck redesign as a reward for drivers who have been promoted.

And is there a subtle message hidden in those flames?

“We're trying to burn the competition,” Garcia quips.

Best Roll-Off

FLAG Container Services
Staten Island, N.Y.

Last year's overall winner, FLAG Container Services continues to show off some of the most patriotic trucks on the road. Taking their name to heart, the company incorporates Old Glory into the designs gracing each of the 30 trucks in its fleet.

Dispatcher Joe Costanzo says his company gives its drivers free license to come up with their own designs and implement them. FLAG driver Sal Laona designed this year's winner (Western Star/American Rolloff). Each year, at their own expense, the drivers attend the U.S. Diesel Truckin' Nationals in Englishtown, N.J., where they research the newest and coolest ways to trick out their rigs, including wheel spinners, custom lighting and paint techniques. Much of the custom fabrication is done in house.

The patriotic motif extends to the company's Kleen Tainer containers, which are painted a uniform red, white or blue. But while national pride is the primary inspiration for the company's fleet, the company also makes an effort to customize containers for its clients. Compactors outside the Hilton Garden Inn are painted with a coordinating Japanese garden theme. The containers used to service the minor league Staten Island Yankees are plastered with the team logo. Safari Real Estate will soon get a container with a wildlife theme.

So what motivates FLAG to go to so much trouble when an ordinary truck and box would do?

“Number one: Pride in our country. Number two: Pride in our job and the way we present ourselves. Anybody can put a truck on the road. But who goes the extra mile and puts a truck like that on the road? These trucks are museum pieces,” Costanzo says.

Best Transfer Trailer

Western Oregon Waste
McMinnville, Ore.

Western Oregon Waste Operations Manager Rich Kuehn admits that he drew inspiration for his company's winning trailer design from a winner in last year's contest. That entrant employed an optical illusion in which the side of a trailer appeared to be peeled away, revealing its contents.

“We met with our marketing firm here locally and they came up with the better idea of actually rolling it back and seeing the people that make up Western Oregon Waste [WOW], seeing them in action at work,” Kuehn says.

Kuehn says the most important aspect of the new design is the way it shows the company as a family. The campaign is aimed not just at the people serviced by the trucks, but at the people loading and driving them. Accordingly, the design had its first exclusive unveiling for employees at the company's year-end celebrations, complete with dramatic lighting. “Their reaction was awesome,” Kuehn beams. “It was great!”

The character of WOW Man was first created for the company's quarterly newsletter. Lately, the sanitation superhero has taken on a more prominent role. In addition to appearing in a string of new fleet designs, Kuehn says he is in the process of designing a real-life persona for WOW Man. The costumed character will visit schools, festivals and parades in the three counties and 19 cities serviced by WOW. No word on whether he'll be asked to shave his head and dye his eyebrows green.

When WOW Man does finally take his first step into the world of mortals, Kuehn insists he will be just one more member of the family. “What we're really saying about the employees is that it's not just one person. That's why we put WOW Man on there and said ‘Even WOW Man can't do it alone.’ It takes all of us.”

Best Sweeper

City of Altamonte Springs, Fla.

If all rivers flow to the sea, then it's more important than ever to remind people of the dangers of contaminating those waters. This holds especially true in a city like Altamonte Springs, Fla., which is crisscrossed by natural and manmade waterways and permeated by lakes.

According to Shannon White, Altamonte Springs' deputy director of public works, one of the biggest problems facing the Orlando suburb is the dumping of trash, leaves and green waste into gutters and storm drains. Trash often winds up in the region's rivers, lakes and estuaries, endangering wildlife. Meanwhile, an excess of decaying leaves can have a catastrophic effect on the eutrophic index of the area's fragile ecosystem, causing algal blooms.

“We try to make everybody aware of what they're doing and how it can impact the environment,” White says. To help get this message across, Altamonte Springs has adorned its Swartz sweepers with an illustrated turtle struggling with a six-pack holder around his neck and a charismatic fish swimming among discarded beer cans.

In many ways, the Altamonte Springs campaign is targeted at children, with an educational component conducted in cooperation with area schools. The hope is that the children will influence their parents and eventually grow into environmentally responsible adults.

The design also helps make residents aware of what the city is doing to combat the problems. “It really shows that we're very avid,” White says. “Our lake management program is huge. We have our own aquatic herbicide program. We're sweeping over 100 curb miles twice a week. We really have a good program for leaves blown into the storm drain.”

The design was created in house and sent to a company that created the vinyl wrap for the trucks. White says he is in the process of developing similar designs for the city's collection trucks and clamshells, which he hopes to enter in next year's contest.

Best Recycling Container

Meese Orbitron Dunne
Ashtabula, Ohio

It is a little known fact that the dinosaurs suffered extinction due to their inability to separate paper from plastic. This bit of trivia matters little to Recycleosaurus, the ferocious, rainbow-hued mascot of container manufacturer Meese Orbitron Dunne. This bin-bodied beastie seems equally capable of separating his recyclables or delivering them up in one big single-stream container.

Though he currently functions solely as a way of promoting MOD's products, the Recycleosaurus design will soon take on a greater role, appearing on the recycling containers themselves.

Specifically, Recycleosaurus is comprised of MOD's tilt trucks, in-plant handling containers and multi-colored recycling containers. Company President Robert Dunne says he was looking for something that would demonstrate the toughness and versatility of his company's products.

“We wanted it to be memorable and something that people would recognize and differentiate from other companies' containers,” Dunne says. “So we put together something that really reflects that. It's animated and it shows life and energy and color.”

Recycleosaurus made his debut at this year's WasteExpo, to the delight of many attendees. “They were really pretty excited about it,” Dunne recalls. “They asked if Pixar had ever given us a call.” The creature also seems to have a talent for finding lost luggage: “We've done luggage tags. In fact, my bag got lost on the last trip and it showed up at 3 a.m. with the Recycleosaurus still on it,” Dunne laughs.

Best Recycling Vehicle

Big Shred
Cochranville, Pa.

What's black, white and shreds all over? Why, Cowboy, the Big Shred mascot, of course. An illustrated dog with an appetite for destruction, Cowboy appears on the side of Big Shred's three Intek National mobile shredding trucks. He also happens to be a real Jack Russell terrier and the pet of company owners Mark and Nancy Johnson.

“He's not as mean as the one on the side of the truck, but the kids get a kick out of him,” Mark reports.

Cowboy was not the first choice when the Johnsons set about designing a logo for their new company. Designs involving a military motif, sharks and a bulldog all hit the cutting room floor before inspiration struck. Mark says, “My son said, ‘Dad, why don't we have someone draw Cowboy and make him look like he's shredding or tearing up newspapers or documents on the floor out of his dog dish? He likes to tear stuff up.’”

The rest is history. Cowboy now appears on a Web site, T-shirts, hats, mouse pads, pens, license plates, magnets and, under consideration, a 1/16 scale model truck with a built-in pencil shredder — er, sharpener. He even makes personal appearances at public “shredding events.”

While the mascot clicked immediately, Mark says the recent proliferation of corporate accounting scandals in the news did force him to tweak the phrasing on the side of his trucks: “We put ‘Destroy documents that bite,’ and then actually added to that after some thought. So we put ‘Destroy documents that bite. It's the law!’ We didn't want people thinking, ‘Oh, you destroy documents that bite. What are you doing wrong?’”