Taming Technology

GAUDREAU, A HAULER in Victoriaville, Quebec, about 100 miles east of Montreal, has proven that agility — not necessarily size — matters when it comes to managing waste.

Initially founded in 1958 as a small market hauler when Jacques Gaudreau acquired his first truck to be used for residential garbage collection, Gaudreau has used technology to its advantage and become a multidivisional waste management firm.

The company, now headed by son Daniel Gaudreau, covers the urban center of Victoriaville with its population of 40,000, as well as hundreds of square miles of rural territory. Gaudreau operates approximately 100 vehicles with 150 employees, serving waste hauling, septic tank, composting, portable equipment rental and sewage treatment plant management needs.

According to the company, its small size allowed it to quickly respond to market needs and test new technologies in the business. For instance, Gaudreau says it was one of the first Quebec companies to develop recycling and composting projects in the early 1980s. At the time, Gaudreau wanted to meet established landfill criteria and the environmental directions of the Quebec government, so it acquired its first recycling center and began selective garbage collection.

Now, the company operates two recycling plants, including one that specializes in glass processing; an indoor waste treatment center; a sanitary landfill; two composting platforms; and a septic tank sludge treatment center.

“Gaudreau is a diversified company in the sense that we do integrated waste management … integrated from start to end of waste management operations,” says Administrative Director Jean-Claude Roy. The company handles collections, treats garbage and residual materials, operates a sorting plant, composts, and manages landfills.

Outdoing the Competition

Over the years, Gaudreau's willingness to experiment with new technologies has led to operating methods that have helped it remain competitive. For instance, introducing caster-equipped garbage containers in Victoriaville pushed Gaudreau to become the first Quebec hauler with an alternate waste collection schedule in which garbage and recyclables are picked up every other week, 12 months per year.

In residential areas, containers lifted by side loaders equipped with a hydraulic lift and a video camera are used. Metal containers handled by front loaders with forks service multi-unit dwelling, commercial and industrial clients. A three-way collection system requires color-coded containers for waste, recyclables and compostable materials.

Because of this model and the efforts of the community when they system was first introduced, Victoriaville reached a 51.14 percent diversion rate in 2000 — the highest ever recorded — compared to an average of 14.2 percent for the other Quebec municipalities, the company says.

Mechanized Recycling Plants

At the company's recycling plant, which was constructed in 1995, technology has improved efficiency and productivity. For example, a recent upgrade included the installation of disc conveyors to fiber and container separation. This helped to eliminate several manual procedures and decrease sorting time because the conveyor operating speed can be increased, the company says.

“We pickup everything that is recyclable,” Roy says. “But there's no need for residents to use a blue box sorting paper on one side and bottles on the other. Because of the way our plant is set up, we're able to separate plastic containers, metal, glass, paper, cardboard, tetra-packs and plastic bags mechanically.”

In comparison with manual and semi-mechanical sorting, the new technologies have increased the quality of Gaudreau's sorting process by 60 percent, according to the company. The recycling plant has seen a 50 percent increase in weight and components offered to recycling companies, Roy adds.

“It has increased the volume of material that we can actually process through our plant,” he says. “At the same time, it has improved the quality of the materials that we're able to deliver to the people that buy the recyclables.”

Moreover, the equipment has freed-up employees' time so that they can concentrate more on quality control tasks because their work now involves more negative sorting (removing of unwanted materials) rather than positive sorting (removal of wanted materials). The upgraded infrastructure and sorting techniques allow recovered materials to be sorted into 26 different categories, including all types of paper and cardboard, glass, metal, aluminum and plastic containers (categories No.s 1 to 7), as well as plastic wraps and plastic bags.

Gaudreau's indoor waste treatment center, which has been open since 1997, allows local residents to dispose of construction and renovation materials, such as leaves, grass, trees, old furniture, wood, metal, cardboard, bricks, asphalt and concrete. More than 70 percent of items taken to the center are diverted from landfills and used for recycling or composting.

Technology on the Truck

Another tool that Gaudreau recently has embraced is onboard weighing systems. Although these systems have been available for about a decade, Gaudreau initially was hesitant to use the systems because of reliability, precision and certification concerns.

A major deterrent against installing onboard scales was the static aspect of most weighing systems, Roy says. The systems the company evaluated took the front loader 20 to 30 seconds to weigh each lift, which would cost the company time and money as each truck on a route must complete about 200 lifts per day.

Nevertheless, Gaudreau installed onboard scale systems from Montreal-based Xactec Technologies on front loaders because the Quebec government has implemented a goal to divert 60 percent of recyclables from landfills by 2008. As landfill costs increase, there will be pressure on haulers to find better ways to establish the cost of waste going to landfills, Roy says.

“Scales are a tool that can help operators run their business more efficiently by providing information on which to make smart business decisions that really translate to the bottom line,” he notes. “With a dynamic system, the weighing becomes totally transparent to the operator. That piqued our interest.”

Currently, the scales are used to audit commercial pickups. During collections, data is accumulated in the onboard computer and periodically downloaded into Gaudreau's management system. Reviewing the amount of material picked up at a site helps route planners determine if a customer requires weekly or bi-weekly service and the best type of container that should be placed there, Roy says. Because Gaudreau provides volume, annual and monthly billing, at various times during the year, the company has to establish the amount of tonnage picked up to audit and to ensure billing rates are correct, he says.

“If the volume changes, we can address it. Our commercial representatives use the data to ensure that the price we charge a customer is in relation to the volume of waste collected.” For instance, a restaurant could have low-volume waste with high weights. “We need to verify that quotations given to customers related to the costs of the pickup and disposal are properly covered versus what has been quoted,” Roy says.

Another benefit of onboard weighing systems is logistics, Roy adds. Because Gaudreau's territory is largely rural, travel distances are considerable. Consequently, it's imperative for drivers to maximize loads, but with the certainty that trucks aren't overweight, he explains. The precision of the onboard scale reduces the time spent traveling to the landfill, and the driver is able to maximize pickups with certainty and avoid overweight fines.

The weight data also helps Gaudreau to organize routes more effectively, adjust the size of containers and monitor the mileage level for pickups to control the transportation costs to landfills. This allows the company to reduce machinery operation and fuel consumption costs.

“By doing finite calculations in route planning, we can reduce mileage by 10 to 15 percent, thereby increasing the lifespan of equipment by an equivalent percentage,” Roy says. The only way we're going to reduce the cost of picking up garbage is to do this precise type of calculation, he adds.

Waste management is “a traditional type of business where technology has yet to become an important issue,” Roy says. “But because of issues like the Kyoto Protocol and rising landfill costs, the preciseness of our business is going to become more and more of an issue.”

In an environment that has seen considerable consolidation of waste haulers, Gaudreau continues to thrive by embracing technological change.

Laird Greenshields is a consultant based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.