Putting Waste on the Map

January 1, 1998

10 Min Read
Putting Waste on the Map

Michael Fickes

Five years ago, Chuck Woolever threw his paper map books into the trash can. It was a dramatic moment. Woolever, the deputy environmental services director in the refuse collection division of San Diego must, among other things, route the city's collection trucks from house to house to recycling center to landfill.

Most people with that job use map books, but Woolever's department now uses versatile, colorful maps generated by a departmental computer system, called a "geographic information system" (GIS). GIS maps and helps manage collection and disposal routes right on the computer screen, drawing on a citywide database that includes: residential customer service addresses linked to service type; topographical maps; aerial photography keyed to the geographic data; street maps that call out speed limits, bad left turns and one-way streets; compaction ratios and capacities for collection trucks; locations for dispatch centers, recycling centers and landfills; and about 200 layers of other data used by various city departments.

All of this data resides in a system called "San Diego Geographic Information Source" (SanGIS). The data components are called "layers" due to the way they are used. For example, streets are one component or layer. SanGIS can call up a graphical street map of San Diego or a community within the city. To add topography, Woolever presses a couple of keys and "layers" topographical features onto the street view. He also can add customer service points and any other data feature that is stored in the system. When he gets the map he wants, he prints it.

Woolever likes technology. In fact, he is considering another technological leap into global positioning systems (GPS). "We really haven't explored this yet, but the idea appeals to us," he says. A GPS transceiver and antenna system connects collection trucks out on the road to another transceiver and antenna system located at the dispatch station. The two systems bounce signals off of any two of 24 satellites in low earth orbit. By triangulating from three points - one truck and two satellites - the system can compute exactly the truck's location at any time and display it on a map in the dispatcher's office.

How a waste hauler can best use this product varies. One possibility lies in handling service calls. By knowing each truck's location, a dispatcher can send the closest truck to a customer. GPS also may complement or replace radio frequency identification systems (RFID) by providing time and date stamps for completed service calls.

While GPS is probably down the road a year or three, especially for residential collections, GIS is here and now.

Woolever began the conversion from paper maps to computerized GIS in 1993 in conjunction with a change from manual refuse collection to automated side-loader collection. "At that point, we realized we were in the dark ages using map books and manual house counts and drawing new locations by hand into our map books," he says. "We needed reliable house count information that was easy to update and shape into routes."

He developed a five-year implementation plan to collect and record refuse collection data into the existing SanGIS database, which already served other city departments. Adding 60,000 to 70,000 addresses or service points annually, the system will grow to include approximately 300,000 residential customers by the end of 1998, the plan's fifth year.

While the department collected the electronic database, Woolever added GIS capabilities to efficiently use the data. He replaced the department's mainframe computer with IBM Risk 6000 workstations running on a UNIX operating system; a GIS mapping system called "Arc Info," from ESRI Corp., Redlands, Calif.; and specialized waste management routing software from RouteSmart Technologies, Columbia, Md.

"In the San Diego system, the software embeds in and works within the Arc Info environment," says Route-Smart's Christopher Walz.

The interfacing software combines routing with mapping and manipulates customer service points, truck volumes and compaction ratios, weights per customer, street maps, speed limits, one-way streets with information related to a collection fleet, such as collecting from one or both sides of the street, and recycling center and landfill locations.

San Diego uses the software to organize all of this data for 300,000 customers located along 56,000 road segments and to create efficient routes that get the trucks from the dispatch center, to their pick-up points, to the landfill and back to the dispatch center in 7.5 hours.

Mapping creates easy-to-understand visual presentations for policy level discussions with city council committees and the city manager, says Nader Tirandazi, senior data systems coordinator for San Diego's refuse collection division.

"We use the system to analyze services provided to different areas," he says. "If we want to expand automated collections into areas already served by recycling and yard waste collections, the system enables us to add an area and fine tune the routes before the trucks go out. We also can track addresses where containers are missing to see if most of the missing containers are centered in certain areas."

The refuse collection division currently operates four dispatch locations, and Woolever is evaluating the possibility of consolidating these into one operations station. To this end, Tirandazi is working out the collection routes from various potential locations. "To select a location by looking at a map would be nearly impossible," he says. "San Diego covers 3,000 square miles, and we have a lot of canyons and plateaus and small communities."

"The benefits [of GIS] are tremendous," Woolever says. "We have significantly reduced the opportunities for error in developing house count information and in developing service areas and collection routes. GIS enables us to optimize routing and improve efficiency. We're already efficient, but in a competitive world, you need to take efficiency to the highest possible level. I can't imagine doing what we do in our department without GIS."

The SanGIS database has evolved over the past 15 years through the cooperative efforts of every city department.

For municipalities planning to build a comprehensive database serving solid waste and other departments, James Sparks, director of GIS consulting for the MSE Corporation of Indianapolis, Ind., cautions managers to think ahead and implement compatible GIS and database software. "In many cases, the data required by the solid waste department will be collected by another department," Sparks says. "If the solid waste department uses a different system, it becomes challenging to import the data."

A high-end GIS program can cost $18,000 and up, but smaller operations can purchase versions capable of manipulating less comprehensive data at a lower cost. For example, ESRI offers Arc Info for high end applications and a $1,200 to $2,200 product called Arc View for lower end desktop applications.

Street data for lower end applications can be obtained from companies such as Geographic Data Technologies, Lebanon, N.H., and Navigation Technologies of Sunnyvale, Calif. By adding a routing program to this mix, any hauler can automate the routing process.

If you've been watching the GIS efforts of larger municipalities and trembling over the high costs, take heart. "Over the past couple of years, the declining cost of hardware and software have made it economically possible for local governments to get into GIS," Sparks says.

Putting Trucks on the Map While GIS can map streets and show how to get from one customer to another most efficiently, GPS can show waste managers where their trucks have been, where they are and where they can go next. For example, a new GPS product designed for waste management applications was released by Eaton Corp., Clemmons, N.C.: A transceiver and antenna module that plugs into its Refuse Advisor, an on-board computer system.

With an on-board computer system, drivers scroll through customer lists, hitting a button when a load has been collected. The system time and date stamps the service call. The GPS system's goal is to automate this process. The transceiver and antenna bounces signals off of two satellites, and the system triangulates the precise latitude and longitude of the truck's location. Software translates that information into an address, matches it with the customer list in the system and records the service on that account.

But since the truck has to stop long enough for the triangulation to be completed, at least for the time being, RFID remains the best way to automate this process for residential accounts.

Will GPS eventually replace RFID? "Time will tell," says Eaton's Richard Miller. "GPS is being looked at as an alternative and as a companion to RFID. The cost per vehicle for GPS is $600 to $700, which is lower than RFID. So there is a reason to explore this."

Commercial roll-off accounts are a natural for GPS, Miller says. "If you have a mapping system, you can view all of your trucks on a screen that also shows the locations of accounts and the locations of the landfills," he says.

"That allows the dispatcher to make informed decisions." Transfer station trucks also can use GPS to record state line crossings for fuel tax and Department of Transportation log records, he adds.

Some haulers have found innovative GPS uses. "We have a refuse hauling company in the Northeast that uses GPS in conjunction with our software," says Walz. "This company operates in a rural area, and they have found GPS to be useful in locating customers. They send a person to the location with a GPS unit, which records a latitude and longitude for the container's location. That information goes into the system, which adds the location to the routes."

For customers with conventional addresses within a community, it's easier and less expensive to type the address into a system, but in rural areas, addressing systems are vague, and a GPS-generated latitude and longitude may be the easiest way to put a customer on the map - and into accounts receivable.

GPS for Landfill Management Caterpillar, Peoria, Ill., recently introduced a Computer Aided Earth-moving System (CAES) using GPS technology that may prove useful in landfill management. Available systems use high-accuracy differential GPS for both landfill compactors and site-preparation tractors. Components for each machine include a high-resolution, daylight viewable screen that is placed in the cab, a GPS receiver, a two-way radio link and software, which varies with the application.

For example, take the compactor application: When a refuse truck deposits a load at the landfill, the compactor spreads and compacts the material. The CAES will calculate precise machine locations on "x," "y" and "z" axes, many times per second. The system translates this information into a visual representation of the site on the computer screen in the cab. Areas of the screen change color as the compactor passes across areas of the landfill, indicating the number of passes.

"Before the first pass, the screen may be red," says Caterpillar's Jay Eyster. "The first pass colors the screen pink, the second pass turns the screen magenta, the third pass changes the color to yellow and the fourth pass makes the screen green. For the operator, then, the job is to run the compactor until the screen in the cab turns green."

While the cost to these and other GPS or GIS systems will vary depending on the application and manufacturer, the real test will be determined by their impact on the bottom line.

In many cases, especially with high tech tools that continue to develop and improve, the question isn't if solid waste managers will use them, but when.

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