Split The Can: Making Co-collection Work

Two years ago, Ruben Mesa, solid waste superintendent for Oxnard, Calif., was stumped.

How could he get the city on track to meet the state's mandated diversion goal, satisfy his customers who demanded increased recycling capacity and handle the addition of green waste collection - all without raising residential ratepayers' bills?

Noting the success of Visalia, Calif., with its split container system, Mesa decided to convert the city to a similar co-collection system program.

By 1996, the early results were in. A recent 349-home, split container pilot program tonnage comparison study illustrates Oxnard's diversion success over the past two years due to the additional recycling and green waste collection: While the standard service neighborhood area (using 105-gallon refuse and 15-gallon recycling basket) showed a diversion level of 15.24 percent, the neighborhoods that used the new 110-gallon, split container and 105-gallon green waste receptacle, registered a 47.45 percent diversion rate - or a 32.21 percent diversion impact.

Additionally, residents reported they are satisfied with their service, according to a survey conducted by waste reduction assistant Shaw Brusven.

While the transition will not be implemented citywide until 1998, Oxnard expects a $2,836,394 return on investment by 2009.

Rising from the few initial pilot programs in the summer of 1995, the system currently encompasses 7,620 single-family residences and will serve 28,000 homes upon completion.

"We are expanding the program at approximately 1,000 homes per month," explained residential supervisor Dudley Perkins.

Initially, the city invested $2.8 million through its solid waste enterprise fund to purchase 28,000 split containers at $100 each. The 110-gallon container is divided evenly down the middle with the black lid for refuse and the other side for recyclables.

To simultaneously collect trash and recyclables, Oxnard purchased a dual-compartment, automated collection truck, manufactured by Heil Co., Chattanooga, Tenn.

"There is an investment that comes along with change and innovation," Mesa said. "However, the split container program will help us achieve waste diversion, generate revenue from additional residential recycling and reduce landfill transportation costs and tipping fees."

How They Did It Mesa cites three important variables in gaining support from the city council, solid waste oversight committee and his team:

1 Meeting residential customer demand to increase recycling capacity. Residents switch from an open, 15-gallon mixed recycling basket to the split container's 55-gallon recyclables side with weekly collection.

The larger container better met the customers' recycling needs and encouraged a full commitment to residential waste reduction. Scavenging complaints also were reduced by the closed, split container.

2 Meeting residential customer demand for green waste collection. Residents use their old trash container for weekly green waste collection.

The grass clippings, tree trimmings, leaves and lumber are transported to a recovery facility where they are processed into mulch. "The avoidance costs from a citywide green waste program will help us offset the split container investment," Mesa explained.

The city now uses its residential automated side-loader vehicles - which had been replaced by the co-collection vehicles - to collect the curbside green waste.

3 Adding new service without raising costs. Oxnard's single-family home residents pay the same rate with an added green waste program and increased recycling capacity.

Public Education Challenges "When you challenge your customers by enhancing resource recovery capacity and reducing refuse space, an effective public education program prior to implementation is critical," Mesa said.

Oxnard's planning and implementation process included the following:

1 Implement by sections.

2 Contact neighborhood council chairs, attend meetings and make presentations so that the customers can ask questions and see the split container before it arrives on the doorstep. Oxnard also is producing a short, split container education video that can be shown regularly on the city's government television channel.

3 Mail letters to the affected neighborhoods. The double-sided letter also features visuals on what material to put on each side of the container. Green waste program information also is highlighted.

4 Canvass. If a resident is unavailable, door hangers mentioning the implementation date are left.

5 Distribute. Employees stencil "green waste" on each resident's former refuse container

6 Collect everything, make notes and follow up during the first week. In the second through the fourth week, inspect green waste cans and identify contamination areas.

7 Begin tracking split container and green waste contaminated residential accounts and focus on "one-to-one" outreach.

How Co-Collection Works When the new split container empties its contents into the truck, its center divider lines up with an inner divider in the truck - so that both recyclables and waste stay where they belong. The recyclables drop into the top compartment while waste empties into the lower compartment.

A small, inner door holds the recyclables in place and keeps them from falling into the waste compartment. The larger, outer door encloses the truck's back and keeps the waste inside. The truck has a nineton capacity (5.4 tons, or 60 percent, for refuse and 3.6 tons, or 40 percent, for recyclables).

"We were one of the first cities in the nation to implement a fully automated operation in 1982," Mesa said. "Therefore, [having] one operator isn't a new concept, but [having] one vehicle picking up both recyclables and refuse means less fuel use and less air pollution."

The calculation speaks for itself. According to Oxnard's previous standard residential collection program, eighteen routes ran Monday through Thursdays each week (nine for refuse collection and nine for recyclables collection).

Thus, the new co-collection vehicles eliminate nine vehicle routes daily - or 1,872 vehicle routes per year.

The purchase of co-collection vehicles - costing $150,000 each - to serve the initial 28,000 split containers was not included in the invested amount.

However, the refuse division is using its existing vehicle replacement program fund for the purchase of the split container vehicle.

"This funding has allowed us to purchase the first four split container trucks without searching for additional dollars," said Grant Dunne, an administrative assistant with the city's solid waste programs.

The city also could used Intermodal Surface Transport and Efficiency Act federal grant funds and the profit from the sale of used curbside recycle collection vehicles as funding sources.

Currently, Oxnard owns five co-collection trucks and will add seven more to take the program citywide by 1998. Only one of the trucks, a 1985 Heil 7000, was retrofitted. The rest of the fleet is or will be new vehicles.

The dual-compartment containers, manufactured by Boner Plastics, Tualatin, Ore., were purchased from a partnership formed by Ruckstell California Sales Inc., Fresno, Calif., and the city of Visalia.

Recently, Oxnard began offering a 70-gallon split container to its 1,000 customers who opt for its reduced rate incentive. Currently, 50 of those customers have made the transition.

City officials estimate it will take approximately six years from citywide implementation, beginning fiscal year 1998-99, to receive a return on investment.

Refuse Trucks * Residential vehicles: 6 sideloader Mack Automated, 2 sideloader Mack Auto Amrep, 3 sideloader Peterbilt Automated, 2 sideloader Mack Recycler, 3 sideloader White/GMC Recycler, 4 sideloader White/GMC Auto and 4 sideloader Recycler Volvo Auto

* Commercial Automated: 3 Macks, 6 White/GMC, 1 Peterbilt, 1 Volvo

* Industrial Rolloff Vehicles: 4 Macks,2 Peterbilts, 4 White/GMC

* Waste Transfer Station Long Haul Vehicles: 11 Semitractors Kenworth and 11 Trailer Peerless Live Floor Containers

* Residential: 26,000 105-gallon Turnkey,10,500 110-split gallon by Boner Plastic (manufacturer) and Ruckstell California Sales and City of Visalia, Calif., and 2,000 60-gallon Toter

* Commercial/Multi-Family: 1,439 2-yard and 1,487 4-yard

* Rolloff ("Open-Top Containers"): 82 13.4-yard Consolidated, 180 30-yard Consolidated and 2 40-yard Consolidated.

Customers: 28,000 residential, 2,300 commercial and 215 industrial

Employees: 63

Services: recycling, C&D removal and recycling, business and industry collection, residential collection, waste transfer and materials recovery station and refuse/recycling education programs.

Local Tipping Fees: $33.50 per ton at the Del Norte Regional Recycling and Transfer Station in Oxnard.