Reflections On Refuse Collection Management

Anyone with business sense often wonders how their operation, philosophy and thinking stack up to that of their peers. There are always good examples in larger collection companies, but what about the modest-size operators?

This month, World Wastes went straight to the source. We asked four municipal operation managers and one private operation manager about their industry experiences. Regardless of the size or location of the operation, each manager concluded the same: * Managers must be service-oriented, innovative, problem-solving enthusiasts; and

* Despite common belief, private and municipal operations have the same problems.

The Collection Core The collection mission, as agreed by the collection roundtable, is to provide service to customers. To do this, officials must provide a large array of services and at the same time pay tribute to existing services. Mike Leichner, manager of Pride Disposal Co., Sherwood, Ore., has invested in modern equipment to improve existing services. For example, he recently changed all his commercial collection equipment to front loaders and the residential equipment to side loaders with cart capabilities.

To conquer the endless demands within the industry, managers must prioritize concerns such as serving the public, protecting the environment, establishing a cost-efficient operation and maintaining employee welfare. How do our panelists rank their collection priorities?

Steve Kees, superintendent of operations, Appleton, Wis., listed public service, tax dollar savings, employee welfare and environmental obligations. To achieve his goals, Kees credited his operations expanded services. He suggested using technology such as automation to get more bang from the buck. New technology, he said, will increase productivity from the same work force.

Although he found it difficult to rank, Leichner placed improved employee morale and safety as a top priority. He said this will encourage employees to strive to meet other goals.

Gene Romo, director of the Solid Waste Management Department, Albuquerque, N.M., ranked his priorities as state-of-the-art services, a comprehensive, integrated program with trained staff, good equipment, functional facilities and environmental preservation. In turn, he said, these priorities provide efficiencies that will keep costs down.

Romo's recent developments include a new landfill, a driver certification program, new vehicle maintenance and repair facilities, an intermediate recycling processing facility and siting of convenience centers around the city. He has replaced 60 percent of his collection fleet and hopes to automate his fleet for the 114,000 households he serves within the next 15 months.

"Efficient, cost-effective service is paramount," said Micheal Woodruff, environmental services manager, city of Thornton, Colo. He recommended that environmental concerns be incorporated into the search for increased services, higher efficiencies and employee welfare. Exploring alternatives is an ongoing operation, he noted.

Woodruff said that automating the city's residential collection was a positive step toward cost-effectiveness. As for increased services, the city recently added recycling.

"Prioritizing is an ongoing function," Knapp said. "The primary objective is to provide a new service or make an old service more convenient," he continued, noting that faster and cheaper service soon will follow, including environmental sensitivity.

"Our goals haven't changed," said Knapp, "only the ways we reach them have. Los Angeles has recently added automated collection, recycling and hazardous waste collection and a driver training course for heavy-duty drivers in related city departments."

The Emotions Of Collection Like any other management position, collection has its ups and downs. Job satisfaction, success, failure and change are all part of the daily hustle, as the collection panelists told World Wastes.

"It is most satisfying to solve an operational problem and please our staff and the public at the same time," said Kees. "Conversely, when no such solution can be found, it is my most frustrating experience."

As for his greatest success, Kees said automating collection saved his city $300,000 in operating costs and between $50,000 and $100,000 in workers' compensation.

Being unable to bring the three divisions he oversees closer together is what Kees recalls as his biggest failure. If he had it to do over again, he would have taken an interim supervisory position to gain experience. For Kees, it was difficult to oversee three divisions with 60 employees since he did not have any previous supervisory experience.

"The most satisfying part is seeing a problem land and finding the solution to please all interested parties," said Leichner. Hand-in-hand with satisfaction, he said, follows the least satisfying aspect - the increasing number of regulations and the amount of daily paperwork.

Converting the previous chain system, which handles roll-off boxes, to a hook system was a big project. Developing a way for the company to continue collection during the conversion period was a personal success for Leichner. His failure, in turn, was not discovering the hook system five years earlier. If Leichner could go back in time, he would learn about gasoline and diesel mechanics and enhance his welding skills.

On the other hand, Romo's satisfaction comes from being able to provide comprehensive solid waste management services at costs equal to, or below, those of anyone else in the region. "Making presentations to the public on sensitive, and at times controversial, issues" is least satisfying to Romo. People who are more interested in confrontation than information gathering frustrate Romo.

While his major success is operating a landfill with a 100-year capacity, Romo doesn't talk about failure.

Woodruff said that the most satisfying part of his job "is designing and implementing programs that effectively address and have a positive impact on the needs of our community and environment."

He is least satisfied because "we do not have enough funding to expand and implement additional programs as fast as we would like to." As for success, he cited community support, especially from elected officials, as essential for the city's new solid waste management program.

Woodruff, who, like Romo, does not mention failure, said he would have examined volume-based rates more closely, including initiating a yard waste pilot program.

"I have always had the most satisfaction from realizing that what I do influences millions of people," reports Knapp. On the flip side, he notes that the least satisfaction comes from personnel problems resulting in wasted talents and distorted attitudes.

"I am most proud of the training procedures I sponsored to improve employee service," added Knapp.

His biggest failure was not starting the process sooner. "Looking back now, I would have demanded more from my superiors. I would have liked to learn about their jobs, including the skills that would help me later on."

How Others Operate As confirmed by our panelists, no two operations are identical. How do our panelists operate?

"The City of Appleton operates six automated routes, an overflow route, two to three commercial routes and a metal recycling route which serves approximately 23,000 households," said Kees. "Container delivery, exchange and repair has created another full-time service." They use one Rand automated side loader and six automated Wayne side loaders with chassis from Peterbilt and GMC. Their rear loaders are 31-yard Leach 2 R-2's on a Peterbilt chassis.

Kees said that since the city has placed great emphasis on maintenance, breakdowns are not common.

The automated routes collect 12 tons per day from more than 700 homes and unload twice a day. Since automation was implemented, no lost time from injuries has been reported. The rest of the division averages about three injuries a year.

Automated drivers are on an incentive program and earn about $13.50 per hour and 42 percent in fringe benefits.

Costs for fuel, maintenance and insurance is $2.40 per mile for the automated trucks and $2.50 per mile for the rear loaders. It costs $50 to collect and dump one ton of refuse at the landfill.

Kees uses tons per manhour, tons per load and stops per day to measure efficiency. Homes serviced per route/day are those passed, whether actually collected or not. Commercial stops are charged by the cubic yard.

Pride Disposal operates three residential routes, two commercial routes, three roll-off routes and three recycling routes which serve 10,000 customers. Leichner intends to add a curbside yard waste route in 1994.

His staff totals 14 drivers with a 1993 injury rate of 35 days including vacation relief, container repair and other activities.

He collects and processes 20,000 tons of material a year with a fleet of 12 Lodals, Macks and Freightliners. The drivers are primarily union members and are paid scale, $15.74 per hour. Since the monthly hours per truck are fairly consistent, Leichner services his fleet on a cycle of once a month.

More than 360,000 tons per year are collected from 114,400 homes and 13,100 businesses in Romo's operation. About 54 percent of the refuse is commercial and the rest residential.

The city charges residents $8.34 per month - $7.23 for weekly collection, 90 cents for recycling collection and processing and 21 cents for the household hazardous waste program.

There are 39 one-man residential routes, 46 one-man commercial routes and 10 two-man commercial routes daily. The city fleet consists of six rear loaders, 35 front loaders, 15 roll-off trucks and 39 side loaders.

Romo computes injuries as one per year per 1,000 customers. Equipment maintenance and fuel costs average $10.96 per ton and he figures efficiency by the relative cost per customer.

The city of Thornton services more than 12,000 customers weekly with four collection trucks and two recycling trucks. Each route collects refuse from between 610 to 700 homes per day, averaging 12.75 tons per day or 51 tons for the daily total.

Recycling trucks, however, average less than five tons per truck per day with a 66 percent participation rate per month. By year end, the city collects a total of 18,750 tons of refuse and 3,504 tons of recyclables.

Woodruff estimates that each home produces 41.63 pounds of refuse per week.

In the days of manual collection, work-related injuries cost the city $200,000 from 1988 to 1991. The total injury cost for the first year of automation was zero. In fact, the workers' compensation premium rate dropped 63.8 percent from $46,697 in 1991 to $16,907 in 1992-93.

The fleet consists of seven automated Wayne Curbtenders - four for refuse, two for recycling and one for back-up. A converted 33-yard Maxon side loader offers additional semi-automated backup. He reports only minor break-in problems, with minimal service impacts.

Toter Inc. supplies the 101-gallon, HDPE universal-style automated containers which are made from 15 percent post-consumer plastic.

All costs are user-fee funded; the current monthly service rate is $9.50. The annual operating budget is approximately $1.2 million. From this budget, equipment operators earn approximately $11.75 per hour plus benefits.

Fuel, maintenance and repair costs total approximately $11,000 per vehicle per year, Woodruff said.

Overall, a ton of refuse collected costs $50.67 and recyclables cost $82.07 per ton. To determine how many homes have refuse collected daily, Woodruff calculates those actually collected, not those passed by.

In the city of Los Angeles, the collection of commercial and industrial refuse by municipal forces is precluded by ordinance. The approximate 720,000 households generate more than 5,400 tons per day.

Approximately 20 percent of the city is serviced by curbside collection for paper, glass, metals and some yard wastes. The program is being phased in according to a three-year plan; yard waste collection will be phased in through a five-year plan.

Since automation, the city has reported less worker injury.

Currently the city computes efficiency by calculating man hours per ton collected. Revised criteria are being developed to form a multi-criteria panel for efficiency.

Famous Last Words Very few subjects inflame the public more than tampering with solid waste collection. For this reason, operators should seek experienced advice before making changes.

It is important to observe what others are doing and picture how you think this would work in your entity. Remember: A procedure that was successful in another locality might not be successful in yours.

Be cautious of statistics that confirm biases. Make sure the operator has not become blinded by enthusiasm, thus ignoring warning signs of defection. In the end, it is not important who originated the idea but whether the idea became a success or a failure.

Finally, our panelists share their tricks of the trade. "At this time, I feel that automated refuse collection is the finest system available," said Kees. "In January we will institute a simplified, volume-based charging system, coupled with automation." Under this system, if residents dispose more refuse than can fit in the 60-gallon cart provided, they will be charged.

"I would advise anyone to get a more well-rounded background," Kees added. "Work in the field and on a truck for a while; you will be a better manager if you've walked a mile in your staff's shoes."

Nationally, Kees urges government to encourage recycling through user fees, which he believes would discourage waste.

"Contact and get to know area haulers," said Leichner. "Start by working in the different levels in the solid waste industry. Working as a mechanic, truck washer, garbage collector, recycler, etc. will help you understand what it takes to manage the same."

On the national level, Leichner believes recycling is very important but cautions to "recycle with reason. Recycling needs to be done while weighing collection costs against the reduction in the waste stream."

Following Albuquerque's lead would be a smart move, Romo said. "A person looking for a job like mine should verse himself or herself well on federal, state and local solid waste regulations," advised Romo. "[It is important to] function as an administrator, purchasing agent, environmental scientist, geologist, attorney and other senior-level, related capacities. The field is changing so fast that you have to be flexible enough to deal with frustration yet capable enough to develop strategies to overcome adversity."

He feels it is important to understand how costly it is to implement federal regulations. He suggests funding or tax credits to defray costs.

Managing collection is a learning process and gaining experience is essential. The World Wastes panelists provided examples of experience, operation and management style. To succeed in management, you should take the time to evaluate employee performance, track operational costs and most importantly, to talk to your colleagues.

The following panelists are on the "cutting edge" of initiating new approaches and solving old problems. Their insights may suggest a few solutions for you in your daily operations.

Steve Kees, superintendent of operations, Appleton, Wis. Kees is in charge of the Public Works Department Street, Sanitation, and Maintenance Divisions. The divisions include 75 employees, 28 of whom are in sanitation. Services offered include automated curbside refuse collection, metal, papers and container recycling, waste oil collection and yard waste management.

Mike Leichner, manager, Pride Disposal Co., Sherwood, Ore. Leichner manages a family-owned operation that serves approximately 10,000 customers and four communities. He oversees a fleet of 12 trucks. Services offered include curbside residential collection, semi-automated cart capability, recycling and commercial, industrial and medical waste collection.

Gene Romo, director, Solid Waste Management Department, Albuquerque, N.M. Romo directs a solid waste department of 380 employees. They service 114,400 households and more than 13,000 businesses. The operation runs as an enterprise program and provides curbside residential refuse collection (which is currently being automated), recycling and interim recycling processing at a newly completed facility. A new landfill has been implemented within the last five years.

Micheal Woodruff, environmental services manager, Thornton, Colo. Woodruff oversees a fleet of seven vehicles serving more than 12,000 residents. Services include weekly automated refuse and curbside recycling collection and a weekly bulky item collection, for a fee. Additional services include free roundup and doorside chemical collection four weeks a year, curbside Christmas tree collection, curbside leaf collection and composting, two free customer landfill days, curbside oil, battery, antifreeze, and transmission fluid collection as well as Christmas overflow collection. A city program takes out and replaces trash and recycling containers for elderly citizens.

Bill Knapp, retired manager II, Refuse Collection Division, Los Angeles. Knapp was in charge of residential refuse, recyclables, yard waste and bulky items collection. The division has approximately 1,000 employees and a fleet of about 800 vehicles. It supports five major regional facilities, a warehouse/communications training center and a satellite operations facility. Services to 720,000 households include collection of paper, glass, metals and some yard waste.