Using Your Arms, Not Your Hands: How Burrtec automated its recycling collection.

Burrtec provides refuse and recycling services to approximately 175,000 residential and 15,000 commercial customers.

Under contract with 15 cities and communities in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, the company also operates three transfer stations/ material recovery facilities (MRF) and five service yards.

WW: How did you develop your system of automated collection of commingled recyclables?

Herbert: We've converted our recyclables collection to an automated, commingled collection format in many of our jurisdictions. There are still some communities that have manual collection and use either an 18-gallon or a 32-gallon container that we provide.

We have approximately 100,000 customers receiving automated pick-up. The system continues to evolve as we move away from tubs and separating the materials at the curbside.

We approached [the system] by determining what was the most effective means of diversion, high participation rates and ease of customer use. To get key data on participation rates, diverted materials and contamination, we performed a pilot program five years ago in Victorville, Calif., where we automated both refuse and recycling.

WW: What type of equipment did you select for your program?

Herbert: We started automating refuse collection in Fontana, Calif., eight years ago. Since then, Fontana has converted to a three-container automated system. All we've done on the recycling side was build off that information base.

WW: Describe your fleet.

Herbert: We have 45 automated trucks for both refuse and recycling. The chassis that we're using almost entirely have been Volvos, but we do have some Peterbilts that we've picked up. We started buying refuse bodies from Maxon, which came with a Sunbelt arm. We have invested a lot of time and money understanding the mechanics of that arm and perfecting it from the standpoint of maintenance and use.

Since Maxon no longer makes refuse bodies, we're going to be converting over to an as-yet-undetermined manufacturer. At this point, we've purchased some of the arms ourselves and either will specify new bodies with arms or change over to a new arm. We'll debate that when we implement a new program. Right now, we have so many of the automated trucks with the Maxon body and Sunbelt arm configuration that they will continue to comprise a large portion of the fleet.

WW: How did you set up the routing for recyclables collection?

Herbert: Based on data from previous collection programs, we looked at the set-out rates and pounds per set-out. We used that information to determine how many houses we could cover effectively with an automated truck. Then, we considered the area to get a better feel for density or travel between stops.

We have a geographic information system (GIS) that ties into our customer database which we use for all of our routing.

Via the GIS, we can enclose an area and instantly capture that route data. From that data, we can look at the tons pulled and the total house counts.

Once we generate trial route sheets and maps, we drive it to make sure that the route works.

WW: What have been the results of your automated collection of commingled recyclables?

Herbert: The participation level has surprised us. There are more set-outs than you might expect. However, participation varies by community. We're seeing about 70 percent to 75 percent set-outs on a weekly basis.

Another surprise is the fact that we get more pounds per household with the automated commingled system. We've been running approximately 15 to 20 pounds per household, which is more tons than what you would expect on a recycling route.

WW: How's that a change from manual collection?

Herbert: When we ran the earlier, manual program, we gave customers an 18-gallon tub in which they would put containers on the bottom and newspapers on top. On average, we were getting about 10 percent to 20 percent participation on set-outs and about 2 pounds per household. The dramatic increase in set-outs helped us when we started looking at rate designs that facilitated higher diversion and therefore, some savings on disposal.

WW: How does the quality of the material from commingled, automated collection compare to that from manual collection?

Herbert: When the customer segregates the material by the buyers' classification, that material will command the highest price.

When you commingle, you're going to get some contamination, because the customer doesn't always do a good job rinsing things out.

That's particularly true with plastic and glass. Also, paper items can be contaminated by liquids in the container.

When we get to the processing side, if all the material is source-separated by commodity at collection, then we just consolidate the loads.

With commingled collection, however, contamination can occur in processing. We don't get very much of it because we positively sort everything. This creates more non-recyclables because we aren't pulling out contaminated material and thus, are not diverting that material.

There's no question you're going to get more contamination with a commingled system, but when you look at the actual gradation of the materials, there's really no major problem in marketing the material.

WW: Burrtec handles its own processing. If you were a company that didn't have a MRF, what would you have done differently to secure processing for your materials?

Herbert: It's critical that you have a very large base of materials in order to justify the capital investment in the MRF. We process our own materials as well as other people's materials.

When you look at the design of an automated, commingled recycling program, you've got to look at collection, processing, material marketing and residue disposal. All those elements play a role in the program's total cost.

It takes quite a bit of synergy to make the facility go forward. Your success depends on the size of the program and your ability to implement a MRF cost-effectively and still remain competitive.

WW: Define the success of your collection program in terms of efficiency and tons collected.

Herbert: We are very efficient. We've added one twist to the program that we're extremely pleased with: We took the automated truck and split it so that it can co-collect either recyclables and refuse, or recyclables and green waste. We are running that out in the San Gabriel Valley for a couple of communities. This versatility allowed us to clock off 10 percent of our time.

Also, we're getting great diversion. When we get positive customer feedback, and it has good curb appeal, then [we know we've] hit the mark we intended and have put in a program that's built to last.

WW: What advice would you give to a hauler that is interested in implementing an automated, commingled recycling program?

Herbert: First, you must know what your customer is asking for. You've got to build support for the kind of programs you implement, because they don't come for free.

Second, you should have a way to process the materials so that you don't have to drive 40 miles to get rid of them or you don't have to put in an intermediate stop to transfer it.

Look at a few programs, analyze the data and consider what the overall impact of your collection activities will be. This will help you optimize your program.

It is gratifying to hear strong praise from your customers and city officials after you've implemented one of these programs and it works as designed.

I think this bodes well for a company, specifically, and for the industry as a whole. With good planning, data and execution, we all can get to what works best.

Refuse trucks: 45 trucks in the automated collection fleet, including refuse and recycling: Maxon refuse bodies with Sunbelt arms, and Volvo and Peterbilt chassis.

Containers: 40-, 60- and 90-gallon, automated Rehrig-Pacific blue containers.

Customers: 175,000 residential customers and 15,000 commercial customers.

Employees: 280.

Service area: Burrtec Waste Industries operates in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. Currently has 15 cities and communities under contract for refuse and recycling services.

Services: Operates three transfer stations or MRF facilities, five collection yards.

Local tipping fees: refuse: $30 - $33/ton.