September 1, 2004

11 Min Read

Erin Spinka

ALTHOUGH THE NINE winners of Waste Age's 26th annual Truck and Container Design Contest can't sing and dance, they certainly deserve to be in the spotlight. From a giant, purple garbage eater to neon flames, this year's winners have taken the extra effort to paint their equipment with bold designs or scenic images so that their companies linger in customers' minds. A clean, cleverly painted fleet can make a garbage hauler a pleasant addition to the neighborhood, the winners say.

The nine operations are not alone in their penchant for originality and creativity. Waste Age received more than 40 submissions to its contest. However, the judges believed the following designs best depicted their companies' overall messages with clean, positive images.

Waste Age congratulates all of the winners. Now on with the show.

BEST OVERALL DESIGN: City of Laredo, Texas

Who would have thought the city of Laredo, Texas' idea to promote its recycling program could lead to a monster of a truck. Actually, Gerardo “Cactus” Salazar did.

When he was first commissioned to design the truck's recycling message, local artist Salazar kept in mind the target audience of elementary school children. The Peterbilt/Pak-Mor rear loader now resembles a dinosaur with “Recycle Laredo” on its sides and its mouth wide-open, just waiting to gobble up the garbage and recyclables on its routes.

The one-of-a-kind giant, purple garbage eater was hand-painted in 2000 by students from San Agustin High School's art class, the Local Boy Scout Troop 71 and Salazar. “The project even counted as … part of a school requirement for community service, as well as a Boy Scout merit badge,” says Xochitl Garcia, Laredo's public information officer. And the hand painting adds to the truck's quirky charm. According to driver Marco Robles, kids love getting up close to see the brush strokes.

Although the total cost to paint the truck was $4,000, the prehistoric hauler does double duty, often putting in an appearance at area schools in addition to its regular collection tasks. “A few schools have environmental projects and decide [to hold] recycling promotions and contests within the different classes,” Garcia says. Robles and the dino-mobile are charged with picking up what the students collect.


Garbage trucks are not frequently described as picturesque, but the description fits Bay Area Disposal's Mack/Heil front loader. The company's logo of a silhouetted heron in front of the setting sun and in the midst of a fresh green and yellow color palette evokes images of the Chesapeake Bay's local habitats, rather than heaps of trash waiting at the curb.

Because Bay Area Disposal operates in such a beautiful area, owners Greg Strott, Liz O'Mahoney and Bobby Strohecker said they wanted to create an equally appealing design for the sides of the company's two front loaders, five roll-offs, one residential truck and dumpsters. Their choice for an artist was easy; they picked Strohecker's daughter, Tara Larrimore.

Yellow is an unusual color for a garbage truck, but “they wanted something bright and easy to see,” Larrimore explains. Beyond that, she knew the owners wanted “something reflecting the Chesapeake Bay area.” And now, the first thing people usually say when they call the company is, “I saw that yellow truck.” It's a good way to identify the company and has been helpful in getting new customers, Larrimore says.

Given the obvious family ties, the design came pretty cheap. Painting the trucks costs approximately $500 per truck. And with customers noting this breath of fresh Bay air on the collection scene, Bay Area Disposal believes the small sum was worth it.


The landscape and dalmations on Red House, W.Va.-based E&L Inc.'s rear loader might seem charming to onlookers, but to owner Sharon Stutler, the designs mean so much more. Stutler says she decided to add the images to her new International/McNeilus truck after the death of her husband, Emory, in May 2003. The design portrays fond memories of the couple's life together, and their love for the country and their dogs.

Years ago, Stutler's husband had fallen in love with a dalmation, Molly. Shortly after bringing her home, he adopted another dalmation, Max. Stutler describes Max as a clown, which explains being painted in a curious position in the can on the truck.

Stutler came up with the design one evening at church, and representatives at McNeilus Companies Inc., Dodge Center, Minn., helped put her in touch with Trent Lundgren of Custom Sign Center in Columbus, Ohio. Lundgren put two images on the rear loader — Molly on one side, Max on the other — for a cost of about $4,800.

Although the truck has yet to start its rounds, Stutler says neighbors and kids enjoy seeing the vehicle parked in the driveway. “I don't think they should be ugly even though they're garbage trucks,” Stutler says.

She has plans for another truck design featuring an old pet deer, also named Molly. And she's thinking of adding an eagle to the next lucky truck in her fleet.

BEST SIDE LOADER: Patriot Disposal Inc.

The red, white and blue colors on Patriot Disposal Inc.'s side loader shout the company's name even before people get close enough to see the logo and mascot. But it's worth taking a closer just to see the little guy.

Although the mascot appears to be a man in colonial garb, on further inspection, onlookers will see he has a clever garbage-can torso.

Despite his diminutive size, the tiny patriot artwork has a big job. “We knew what we wanted,” says Operations Manager Chris Kuknyo, explaining that the design had to communicate the company's mascot, name and phone number. So far, the company believes it has been successful.

“It's a nice marketing tool, and the design really sets us apart in the area,” Kuknyo says. He and President Jay Eby began the business in 2000 and because they grew up in the area, they like their trucks to participate in community events. For example, for Fourth of July parades, the company usually has someone dress up and walk with the White/Heil truck.

Kuknyo says the company recruited Shearer Design's Jonathan Shearer, a local retired Marvel Comics artist, to create the artwork. The design, which cost about $100, appears on seven trucks. The company applies the vinyl design in-house for approximately $600 a truck.

“We really are patriots,” Kuknyo says. With their design, it's safe to say it shows.

BEST ROLL-OFF: Latella Rubbish

Although drag racing isn't on the agenda for this Ford roll-off truck and American Roll-Off container owned by Orange, Conn.-based Latella Rubbish, the truck's lime-green flames and red background would fit right into such a scene.

Fitting in on a collection route, however, is not what Vice President Joe Latella Jr. and brother Michael had in mind when they created the winning design. “We want it to be eye-catching for customers, to stick in their heads,” says Joe Latella.

A previous roll-off design by the company was a winner in Waste Age's 2002 Design Contest. So, the brothers decided to extend their creativity to all of their trucks, painting the artwork themselves. Joe Latella says they spend approximately $1,000 to $2,000 for materials for each truck in their fleet. The consistent theme in each paint job is the bright colors.

“We usually do hot pink or purple, but this time we did lime green,” he says, noting that green flames really pop out over a contrasting red base.

It's clear that the eye-catching colors are enjoyed by area residents, too, especially when they're used during special functions, such as Memorial Day parades, Latella says. But more importantly, keeping a truck clean and playing it up with a little extra flair is giving Latella's business the attention it deserves, he says.

BEST RECYCLING VEHICLE: City of Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Residents of Deerfield Beach, Fla., often say “wow” as the city's recycling truck drives by, and not simply because of its bright design and fun characters. “W.O.W.” stands for “wipe out waste,” which has been Deerfield Beach's recycling campaign slogan since 1999. “We want to let everyone know that wherever they go in the city, they are able to recycle,” says Recycling Specialist Cheryl Miller.

Local children and student graphic artist Michelle Langlois developed the artwork, which illustrates animated recyclables, such as milk cartons recycling at school, home, work and the beach. The sides of the truck are painted an “environmental” green, while the rear of the GM/Chevrolet truck has been painted to resemble the truck's inside, which houses recycling bins and a few recycling deer mascots. Burton Imaging Group of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., put the design on the truck for approximately $3,500.

The truck primarily is used to promote recycling in the city during special events. But the costumed deer always make children cheer, which makes it a great tool for school programs, says Mario Reboa, recycling solid waste superintendent. Consequently, Reboa says the city is looking into transforming the truck into a complete education center and placing similar W.O.W. designs at drop-off centers and on containers.

BEST CONTAINER: Metro Nashville Public Works, Division of Waste

A repeat Design Contest winner, Metro Nashville Public Work's Waste Division has added a new canvas to its recycling program: recycling containers. Showcasing the familiar caricature of the Nashville skyline, which became recognizable with the Curby campaign last year, the container design provides residents with detailed recycling instructions.

“We wanted to create a theme,” says Recycling Coordinator Sharon Smith, explaining why the division stuck with Curby. By using the image on the loaders and containers, Smith says residents will begin to identify recycling rules — what's acceptable and what's not — at any Metro Nashville pickup location, whether it's a curb or drop-off site.

The size of the container provides space for specific recycling instructions and for contact information to be incorporated into the design, Smith says. In particular, design details have been added so that recycling does not seem like a burden and “so people wouldn't find it frustrating because they know what can go in and what can't,” she says.

Smith believes the designs are working. The division has placed 50 Best Pak containers with the design around the city in an effort to make recycling fun and increase participation, especially at schools and apartment complexes. Meanwhile, contamination rates have decreased.

So for just $95 per decal, the Curby campaign that continues to promote recycling has become music to Music City's ears.

BEST SWEEPER: Promotora Ambiental

In 39 cities across Mexico, Monterrey-based Promotora Ambiental S.A. de C.V. has 1,150 service vehicles featuring designs similar to this winning sweeper. The lower rim of the sweeper is painted a dark green with a lighter green wave and a large leaf painted above it. The rest of the truck is crisp white, on which appears a globe with white, silhouetted hills. the slogan, “ºCuidando nuestro ambiente!” translated as, “Taking care of our environment!” is clearly depicted with the company's telephone number and a Web site.

The design evokes a clear environmentally friendly message for the Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish speaking world. Additionally, the look of the artwork corresponds with the sweeper's function of keeping streets clean, says Margarita Mendoza Leza, the company's environmental manager. “The community response is good, especially when the service that goes with [the design] benefits the town.”

The sweeper design cost approximately $2,000 and was created by the art department of the Monterrey-based advertisement agency Oxygen.

BEST VACUUM TANK TRUCK: Ferguson Environmental Inc.

It's difficult to determine exactly what color Ferguson Environmental's vacuum tank truck is. “The color is very unique,” Owner Keith Ferguson agrees. Actually, Ferguson picked the color after seeing grime on one of the white trucks in his fleet as it came in from a winter route. “We held all the colors up to the truck and picked the one that matched,” Ferguson laughs. “We said ‘grime won't show up on this color.’”

Despite this safeguard, FER Inc. trucks have nothing to hide. Ferguson explains that his drivers are proud of their trucks and make keeping them clean a priority. Some drivers even wash out their mats in the sink every night. “My customers tell me I'm making too much money because my trucks look too good,” he says.

FER Inc. is a small company that has been in business since 1995 and has approximately 10 employees. The company has been able to get and retain accounts because customers know the trucks — Kenworth models with Cusco bodies — are going to look as good as new when they come onsite, Ferguson says. So even if his fleet is a color that blends in with dirty surroundings, the hue also ensures FER's fleet stands out.

Erin Spinka is Waste Age's associate editor.

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