As the sun heads for its zenith, I find myself once again propelled by an irresistible urge to drag out my soapbox and hold forth on what I see lying ahead for waste managers. While I don’t expect what I propose here to evoke so much as a gentle “Gee Whiz,” still I’m willing—like the school principal perched above the dunk tank at the homecoming fundraiser—to suffer mightily for my self-indulgence. The splash button is located at email@example.com if you think I’ve gone bonkers.
Rising costs, decreasing receipts, mounting fiscal deficits, security concerns, a host of social, political, environmental, and public nuisance issues—everything from justice, noise, odor, traffic, and anything else that pits neighbor against neighbor—all combine with the growing awareness of serious infrastructure shortcomings to shred municipal budgets. It’s not so much that we don’t know or care about the situation; we as responsible citizens have to make hard choices about where our money goes, so turning more of it over to government does not rank high on our wish list.
Show me an adequately funded public program, and I’ll show you one that has never heard of solid waste. Much of the blame lies with us and how well we’ve been doing our job. If the public does not sense catastrophe right around the corner, it is not inclined to dive for the wallet to fix “…that what ain’t broke.” You might see some chinks in your operation’s armor, but so long as garbage is picked up and disappeared with a minimum of fuss, you’re nowhere near the head of the line for a visit to your jurisdiction’s wallet.
Adding to the problem is the fact that there is no aspect of waste management that isn’t undergoing change, and it seems certain that this trend will do nothing but accelerate in the foreseeable future. So it is important that we ask ourselves, “where are we headed?” in the hope that somehow we can have a positive impact on events rather than constantly finding ourselves in a pursuit curve.
One has to look no further than collection and transfer operations—the most expensive per-ton parts of the system—to see where change can and must take place, and indeed that we are engaged in a revolution in the way we move waste. Already automated systems have had a huge impact on collection practices…a trend that is bound to continue, if for no other reason than the already well-understood benefits of safety and economics.
More recently, telematics—vehicle tracking and route management—systems have elbowed their way into the field, rapidly becoming mainstays in waste fleet operations, so it is only a matter of time before just-in-time (JIT) scheduling becomes as routine on our side of the materials management equation as it already is elsewhere in business. Those who deliver recycled materials back into production channels are well aware of the challenges and benefits of JIT, so we have a good starting point from which to expand the practice.
Thoughtless scheduling routines that send trucks scurrying out the gate at the same time only to end up in queues at transfer stations, MRFs, or landfills is no longer necessary…or acceptable. The tools for JIT are in place, operational models well established, the economic advantages are clearly visible. All that is missing is the belief that the positive control over fleet activities can really work in the waste environment…that, and the will to make it happen.
In the very near future many jurisdictions may wish to take a close look at the success enjoyed by most big-city commercial haulers in carrying out their activities at night where traffic impacts are minimal, and adopt a similar strategy in their residential operations. Obviously, the transition from daytime to night collection is bound to stir up a hornet’s nest of objections, but the advantages—adequately presented—should help overcome many of them.
Already we are seeing strong noise-cutting improvements in collection and compaction mechanical and hydraulic systems, and it seems to me just a matter of time before we see hydraulic launch assist systems gain a foothold in the collection arena. While the principal driver for this will be fuel savings, of equal importance will be the greatly reduced noise signature of constant speed engines tasked with charging a suite of energy-storage systems rather than having to meet peak demands cyclically.