Severe weather can disrupt waste and recycling efforts. But most waste and recycling operators have developed a range of strategies to meet the challenges such conditions can present for collection and landfills.
Both public and private sector solid waste and recycling officials emphasize that being prepared and used to such conditions is a big advantage.
Waste360 spoke with Terry Schweitzer, vice president with Gershman, Brickner and Bratton, a national solid waste management consulting firm, about the challenges haulers face in wintry conditions. Schweitzer has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, starting as a driver and district manager with Waste Management and Republic Services.
Waste360: What is the best approach to training for sanitation workers for working in winter conditions?
Terry Schweitzer: First, training should be just prior to cold weather months. Then, just having refresher trainings. One best practice is 'tailgate meetings.' It's a reminder that there are going to be some issues. After an ice storm, for example, you're going to have lower power lines, lower tree branches and things to look out for that might not usually be there.
Waste360: How does winter weather challenge waste haulers?
Terry Schweitzer: Any hauler in general, whether it's a municipality or a private contractor, they all face the same weather. They all have the same challenges for the most part.
Waste360: What are some of the challenges?
Terry Schweitzer: One of the challenges they typically face is the decision to close down for the day or stay open. It's a little easier for a municipality because they're not answering to stockholders. Some of the bigger guys, they have to answer to stockholders.
But the other side of it is safety. You have snow plows driving around out there. You have other people driving around, because they want to drive around in a snow storm for some crazy reason, and they get stuck. So now you're out there in a garbage truck and it's really not worth it.
Waste360: So what do you do?
Terry Schweitzer: You plan days ahead, months ahead really, before winter even hits. You ask questions. Are you stocked up? Do you have a winter plan in place? How are you going to address issues before they arise? For instance, if you're going to shut down for the day, how do you get the word out to the public? There again, it's planning ahead. A lot of planning ahead. When can we fit this in? Can we just delay? Can we collect it all the next day or do we push it off to another day?
Waste360: Do you delay, then, or push it off?
Terry Schweitzer: That really follows what the local community will accept.
Some places are ok with putting it out Saturday when you've missed on Tuesday. Others say, 'no, you've got to get me the next day.' You have to figure out how to balance that out.
Waste360: What's the best way to communicate with customers?
Terry Schweitzer: Some private haulers have an out-dial system where they can actually pick the routes, the days of the week and the customers since it is subscription-based. A lot of TV stations allow haulers to get the info out. Facebook, Twitter and social media are other great ways to get the word out to your customer base and residents.
If you're a private hauler, you had certainly better stay in touch with whoever is overseeing your contract because if you're not letting them know what's going on, they're not real happy either.
Waste360: What challenges the guys pulling the bins by hand?
Terry Schweitzer: Their challenges are huge challenges. Depending on the weight in the cart, bin or bag, they have to use proper lifting techniques—p proper container-handling techniques. Also, when the wind chill is 20 below zero, they're still going to be out there collecting. If you're a helper on the back of a truck that's going down the road at 10 mph to the next stop, you're going to experience an even colder wind chill.
Waste360: How do you deal with those low temps?
Terry Schweitzer: You dress in layers. Make sure your ears and face are covered as best you can. Make sure your boots are within company policy. Some companies say you have to have your steel-toed boots on, but if you're going down the road at 10 mph and it’s 10 degrees out, your toes are in a refrigerator. So have a talk with the supervisor to see about getting heavy winter boots with good traction. Some places will use strap-on ice cleats to help with that part of it if it's acceptable.
Waste360: What happens when containers get buried in all that snow and ice?
Terry Schweitzer: In the past I've told drivers, 'do your best to get it out but don't take chances. Write the address down and we can deal with it on an individual basis with that resident.'
Waste360: When snow falls, seemingly with no end in sight, what can be done to keep morale high?
Terry Schweitzer: Go out and get hot soup or hot cocoa. Just serve a hot cup of soup. When drivers call in and say they can't get down a street, be understanding, say, 'That's fine. We'll get it later.' Don't force them into something. Let them make the decision. They're out there in it. The dispatcher, the supervisor, they may be back in the office but they're not out there. Have faith in them. They want to get the job done. Absolutely they want to get the job done.
Waste 360: What about best practices for fleet managers/maintenance managers?
Terry Schweitzer: There are always those touchy trucks that are hard to start in the cold weather. Then they have to thaw out. So once all the maintenance work is done and there's room, pull them inside and keep them warm so those guys can get out first thing.
Tires also are a concern. If you're running with regular street tires with not much tread, you're not going to get the bite and you're going to have guys spinning tires and getting stuck. It may be better to go with a BDM-style tire. The maintenance manager is going to have to work with the tire vendor and figure that into the budget. They're more expensive, but they also help reduce tow bills when your truck is stuck. And they give the guys a little more confidence.
Waste360: What else?
Schweitzer: Dress warm. Stay warm. And this too shall pass.