Trash & Tribulation

Tarps come to the rescue, keeping unwieldy loads safely contained.

Some in the waste hauling business believe “tarp” is short for headache. Of course, everyone knows it stands for tarpaulin, a covering that many local ordinances now require.

Like a lid, a tarp is such a simple device — whether it's the manual version or an automatic variety — that performs the absolutely essential task of containing otherwise potentially hazardous loads of refuse and debris. So, like tarps or not, most companies report regularly taking the time to cover their loads, with generous payoffs.

Simple Benefits

Tarps are used for containment, which translates into safety. As Winnie O'Brian, chief financial officer of Wilson, N.C.-based O'Brian Manufacturing Co., says, tarping loads keeps both trash haulers and the public free from injury.

“Tarps contain a load — whether [it's] general household rubbish, commercial rubbish or construction materials — and keep [trash] inside the container,” O'Brian says. “Tarps keep material inside the container so it's not blowing onto the road and on the roadsides.”

Her company manufactures compactor curtains, as well as hand and automatic tarps, the latter of which prevent workers from having to climb up on top of a box, thereby cutting down on employee injury and workmen's compensation costs.

Because tarps are designed to protect public health and safety, many states now mandate that loads be covered.

“It's the law in some states and provinces [to tarp trucks] because the stones and debris fly out and hit vehicle windshields and cause accidents,” says Paul Hardy, president of HQN Industrial Fabrics, north of Detroit on the Canadian border. HQN manufactures custom tarpaulins, as well as manufactures and exports disposable bag liners for roll-off boxes and other waste containers.

“Another simple reason [for tarps] is that operators need to keep their loads dry,” Hardy adds.

Tarps also are credited with increasing productivity — especially the automatic versions. David Peck, fleet manager with Waste Holdings, Raleigh, N.C., which uses O'Brian's equipment, says the increased productivity all comes down to time.

“It doesn't take you 20 minutes to cover the box,” Peck says. “Instead, [with an automatic tarp,] you can cover it in just 20 seconds.”

Len Brescia, vice president of sales for North Oxford, Mass.-based Pioneer Cover-All, an automatic tarp system manufacturer, agrees. “We cover a load in eight seconds vs. [requiring] a man to pull a manual tarp over a load. So, obviously, we increase productivity,” he says.

Another way that tarps increase productivity is by ensuring vehicles reach the point of collection with a full load. “End-users use tarps to cover their open-top containers or trailers to prevent loss of materials during transport to the point of collection to the landfill,” says Scott Fuhrman, manager of the waste covers division for Donovan Enterprises Inc, Stuart, Fla. The company manufactures tarps and tarping systems for roll-offs, hooklifts and transfer trailers.

And a positive end-result of tarping waste, Fuhrman points out, is environmental cleanliness.

Some end-users report tarping loads for pure necessity, because sometimes materials cannot be contained any other way. Larry Gerlach, equipment and maintenance manager for the Lancaster County [Pa.] Solid Waste Management Authority and user of Pioneer Cover-All's automatic tarp systems, explains: “Our transfer trailers don't use tarps because they're solid. But some time back, we built an incinerator and started hauling ash. That's when we needed tarps for the dump trucks.”

Industry Resistance?

If tarping loads is a requirement in many states, then why would any hauler still leave a container uncovered? Some speculate that it's because the laws are simply tokens.

Cindy Cook, marketing manager for Alger, Mich.-based Roll-Rite Corp., an auto tarp system manufacturer, says, “It's a regulation, depending on the state you're in. But then again, it's not widely enforced in some areas — even if there is local legislation.”

Some in the industry suppose that certain haulers resist tarping because of the equipment expense. “It's rather expensive,” O'Brian confirms.

Others point out a much more human reason. “To the trucker, tarps are a pain,” Hardy says, “especially if he doesn't have an automatic tarping system.”

But state littering laws are an incentive to contain loads. “There's not a national law, but there are local littering laws within states, and that's what's putting tarps on trucks,” O'Brian says. “Companies can be cited for violating local littering laws.”

“Although the threat of fines may not be the more important reason to use a tarp, it is a very real reason why end-users use tarps,” Fuhrman confirms.

Interestingly, although there is no national legislation on tarping to date, Cook notes that the federal government is beginning to assert its say on the issue.

“For some reason, the federal government is proposing a recommended 108-inch tarp width limit,” Cook says. “I'm amazed that even when some states don't require tarping, the federal government would impose restrictions.”

In some cases, haulers find they need a tarp on-the-spot when they're pulled over by law enforcement on the road, manufacturers report. “We've had instances where customers called needing tarps right away because they're stopped at the side of the road and can't move their loads until they're covered,” O'Brian says.

Aside from the incentive costly ordinances and local laws are imposing on reluctant haulers, many businesses are realizing that using tarps has a direct effect on company image.

“High-profile companies like to project a high-profile image by having state-of-the-art equipment, including the best tarping system on the market, outfitted on their fleets,” Pioneer Cover-All's Brescia says.

Then, there are ancillary reasons why tarping resistance may be fading: the use of tarps is purported to improve employee morale. “The driver may have more pride in his work, knowing he has the best equipment,” Brescia adds.

Automatic Technologies

There are two basic tarp varieties: automatic systems or hand and manual tarps. Yet, not surprisingly, there's a bit more technology involved with the automatic varieties — and quite a few more models than some would suspect.

Of the automatic systems, end-users may choose from rack-and-pinion technologies, hydraulic cylinders, non-hydraulic arms, and cylinder-free, forward-mounted units.

Rack-and-pinion tarping technology helps eliminate free-fall by allowing the pivot arm to move a rack against the pinion gear using a cylinder instead of a hydraulic cylinder.

Free-fall, says Brescia, is a gravity problem that occurs when auto tarp arms are over center, or in the 12 o'clock position. “When gravity is introduced and the driver opens the valve, gravity takes hold of the pivot arms,” he says. “Then the driver has the ability to slam the pivot arms against the container, where it sits in a rest position.”

The rack-and-pinion is a geared mechanical movement, “and it can only free-fall to the next gear,” Brescia adds.

Donovan Enterprises uses a non-hydraulic pivot arm on its Hy-Tower SL automatic system. Pivot arm systems can be problematic because “they take too much of a beating, and the maintenance costs can be prohibitive,” Fuhrman says.

Donovan also offers its new Sidewinder automatic tarp for transfer trailers. “It allows drivers to cover or uncover open-top transfer trailers from the ground,” Fuhrman says.

O'Brian, on the other hand, uses hydraulic cylinders using a joystick to operate the hydraulic system to cover and uncover the load.

“About a year ago, we put the arms or mounting brackets down lower,” O'Brian says. “That lowers the arm when it's in the rest position, reducing the risk of damage when the container is lowered down on the truck.”

Roll-Rite offers cylinder-free, forward-mounted technology. Here the arms aren't used to hold the full weight of the tarp, Cook says. “Our system is forward-mounted onto a head unit that contains the tarp.” Like a spool, the tarp is mounted onto a steel tower that's stationary, Cook adds.

Roll-Rite employs two different adjustable sliding pivots — with the hydraulics contained inside the pivot itself.

In choosing a tarp system, all users and manufacturers agree that this equipment decision should be based on one key factor: safety. This includes safety for workers, for others on the road and for protecting the environment. And automatic tarp systems offer a second degree of safety for workers who might otherwise have to scale unstable debris to securely contain loads.

Carol Badarraco Padgett is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer.

Fabrics Make or Break the Tarp

Tarps keep getting better. But this isn't solely due to automatic systems' technology. At a more core level, the fabrics — the very essence of the tarps themselves — are improving.

Paul Hardy, president of HQN Industrial Fabrics, north of Detroit on the Canadian border, reports that synthetic fabrics are improving along with automatic systems.

Although HQN doesn't deal with hardware, it remains busy searching out the latest and best fabrics to replace tarps on hand (manual) systems, side rolls and automatic equipment. “They're getting lighter, stronger, more resistant to chemicals, and more resistant to high and low temperatures,” Hardy says of the new fabrics.

Donovan Enterprises Inc., Stuart, Fla., knows tarp fabric is getting better. Scott Fuhrman, waste covers division manager, says today's tarps now are more durable and weigh less.

“A normal PVC (polyvinyl chloride) mesh, 12-foot by 26-foot, weighs about 35 pounds,” Fuhrman says. The same size tarp, “made with lightweight mesh, weighs just 15 pounds.

“Twenty pounds makes a big difference when you sling a tarp eight to 10 times a day,” he says.
Carol Badaracco Padgett