Scales and Software Clamping Down on Waste Collection and Transfer
Good planning and proper equipment help control costs and trash flow.
Solid waste operators have a challenge that other city services don’t: competition. "Nobody competes for police or fire, and there’s just a little competition in schools," comments John Hadfield, executive director for the Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA) of Virginia. This competition, however, has been a blessing for taxpayers as their municipal operations strive to provide a higher level of service at a lower cost.
"Waste collection is pretty organized in probably two-thirds of what is collected," says Harvey Gershman, a solid waste management consultant with Gershman, Brickner & Bratton of Fairfax, VA. "The private-sector competes, and they are organized reasonably efficiently. The public sector is getting better, but there is room for a lot more improvement. There are significant opportunities through improved orchestration of waste logistics [OWL].
"In most places, disposal capacity is at a very high level. Only in portions of the Northeast US and Northwest US is disposal an issue," explains Gershman. "In most places, as we have seen, there is an abundance of disposal capacity competing for waste by lower prices.
"Infrastructure to separate and sort waste is expensive, and the results are poor at best. Health concerns and labor issues will make sorting by humans unacceptable as an option. Equipment will have to be developed to sort, or I do not see this as being a realistic option. Economics will continue to drive the direction of waste disposal, and to me, in the near future it looks like landfilling without a lot of sorting or separation will be the order of the day."
So what is happening on the municipal level? What are cities doing to improve their OWL? One of the most highly regarded collection systems is that found in San Diego, CA. Charles Woolever, deputy director of the Refuse Collection Division, reports that the metro area includes 315,000 residential and small-business stops. Their solid waste is currently handled by 168 trucks running about 130 routes a day, collecting five days a week. This means more than 30 million service stops per year.
"Our collection has always been among the most efficient services in the country. But eight years ago it was all manual, with 40% of the fleet made up of sideloaders with one person handling 10 tons per day, and the remainder of the fleet rearloaders with two workers and a collection target of 14.5 tons per day. We had an incentive system. When they finished the work, they were allowed to go home for the day and be paid for the whole day. Unfortunately this bred customer service issues, including some complaints of shoddy work."
Technology to the Rescue
|Collection trucks are guided to the proper scale by color-coded signs.|
Then, over a five-year period, vehicles were traded in for automated sideloaders, which helped reduce the need for 75 staff positions, including five supervisors. "No one was laid off," Woolever emphasizes. "And at the same time we’ve been expanding our recycling program from 40,000 homes in the pilot study to a total of 284,000 residences and small businesses that are still like a residential pickup. We decided to go with a generic truck for both refuse and recycling for curbside pickup."
The voluntary program enjoys close to a 50% diversion into recyclables. "San Diego has a long history of volunteerism. We are now designing our yardwaste collection to be biweekly as well, and we will alternate it with the recyclable pickup schedule." San Diego’s ultimate goal is to pick up that yardwaste with the same generic truck.
Because the landfill is centrally located, San Diego has no transfer stations, but it utilizes two material recovery facilities (MRFs). Route trucks can get in and out of the MRF in about 10 minutes, versus more than 20 minutes for the landfill.
Woolever explains that San Diego’s waste collection budget totaled $48.4 million this year, with trash collection taking up $32.7 million, street litter containers $1.3 million, and the recycling program $14.3 million. There are no resident fees. "We make 16.4 million service stops per year for residential/small business trash. Last year we collected 375,000 tons of trash, 71,000 tons of curbside recyclable materials, and 39,000 tons of yardwaste." (Yardwaste principally goes to the city’s composting program.)
He then comments on the computer programs that help make the operation more efficient. "We have an integrated system that has been built by our own San Diego Data Processing Corporation. We started by building a GIS [geographic information system] countywide as the backbone, which each department can customize for its own purposes. Arc Info is the tool to access all the databases. We also acquired and are using RouteSmart to plan our expansion areas for converting to automated collection and for designing recycling routes."
The EPACS (environmental programs and collection systems) is the customer service tool San Diego has integrated with its GIS so all data in the city can be accessed. "As soon as a resident calls, the system used by our online operators recognizes the phone number and populates the screen about that customer so we can serve that person better," Woolever says.
The Nextel phone system helps supervisors immediately contact the customers involved. In addition, the city’s developing a global positioning system it is calling "Packer Tracker" so supervisors can observe the progress of each route truck as it’s collecting that day. "We will know whether the missed stop is due to driver error or to a customer’s failure to put the container out by 7 a.m. At 2.3 miles per gallon, it’s not very efficient to go back for a missed stop because the customer was late."
Furthermore, when route trucks go over the scales at the landfill, RAD (refuse and disposal) automatically identifies and records the truck and net weight. Woolever comments, "Our Information Systems Manager Nader Tiranndazi is a genius. Give him a vision and he can come up with a data system solution."
With RAD, they’ve also gone to ticketless transactions at the landfill. "Before we did that we usually had 50 vehicles in line at three scales. Some days we had 100 trucks backed up to the off-ramp. We would have had to spend a couple million to remodel the site to handle the traffic, so RAD and ticketless transactions at the fee booth saved us a remodeling job," relates Woolever.
Another benefit for efficient collection is the city’s ARTS (automated refuse tonnage system). "ARTS is used for dispatch," he explains, "so we who know who’s gone on what route, with what equipment, and whether it’s collecting waste or recyclables. Through ARTS, supervisors can see real-time reports on individual trucks. That is, they can monitor each load as it weighs in at the landfill. They can get a feel for how heavy it is today, or how light, and whether any steps are needed to avoid overtime." It also captures historical data, which can be analyzed for comparing trends.
San Diego has onboard scales on nearly all its collection vehicles. "We’re using TransData Scales, which help us optimize payloads and avoid overloading vehicles. As trucks pack out, the process gets slower and slower. So if you know that you’ll need to send two loads to the landfill, you can pack both vehicles with the same-size load rather than max out the first load, then pick up a partial second load."
Woolever emphasizes, "High efficiency and high customer satisfaction are the goal, with the customer coming first. We’re a public service; they are our bosses. We’re also working really hard in the area of social responsibility, so we’re converting our fleet to liquid natural gas as part of an effort to clean the air."
San Diego also is occupied with improving the future. Its four locations for vehicle storage have been consolidated to a single site near the landfill. "We have a long-term lease with the Marine Corps for that landfill. We’ve recently obtained a permit to put in a ‘backdoor’ road, which will save five miles per vehicle."
They’re also seeking to reduce fuel consumption by packing at idle speed when all that’s needed for the hydraulic pump is to run the PTO at 700 rpm, instead of throttling up to 1,200 or 1,300 rpm. "Initial indication is it’s saving us 10 gallons per vehicle per day, and those vehicles average 40 to 50 gallons daily. As we go to natural gas, we will use a dual-fuel diesel igniter system [licensed to Caterpillar] so we can retain all the benefits of the diesel-engine horsepower and torque. Our initial results showed that we’re substituting 82.3% of the diesel with this dual-fuel system."
Woolever credits Richard Hays, the director of the city’s Environmental Services Department, for his vision in utilizing technology more completely. "Another of Richard Hays’s vision is to use a private-sector partner to refine the landfill gas and convert it into a liquid methane motor fuel for use in our packers. By doing that, we’ll reduce the greenhouse effect because, instead of flaring that gas, we’ll be burning it in the trucks."
San Diego is even exploring the use of biodiesel, from recycled grease. In addition, it’s looking at possibly turning a closed landfill into a photovoltaic facility capable of developing a megawatt of electricity per day. Their new operating station includes plans for a 37-kW photovoltaic array, which will meet 80% of the facilities’ needs. Woolever sums up all the reason for all these programs: "Our goal is to show initiative, to be part of the solution for any problem associated in any way with waste collection."
"From an industry standpoint, the difficulty is not so much in administration but in dealing with unknowns," declares Bill Brown, president of TMS Solutions in Rochester, NY. Brown has been dealing with wastestream software since 1977 and notes that TMS’s focus is on developing software for niche markets, with major emphasis on the waste industry.
Speaking of unknowns, he recalls the time a $15 million industrial waste recycling plant in Rochester somehow acquired ammunition in a load of waste. "The bullets went off inside the conveyor belts. Flying bullets were not part of the plan at all, and they had to shut down. Then the county pulled the plug on funding. After months of inactivity, the county-owned plant was converted to its present mission as a standard recycling and transfer station."
Brown agrees the technology is there to make waste collection and disposal a tighter, more efficient operation through OWL. "There is no such thing as a perfect world, but each individual business within the waste industry can be managed properly and very tightly. The key is to be sure the software will meet your needs. Learn how to test the technology you’re thinking of buying."
He recommends systems that log the loads as they’re picked up. "They give patterns for even residential customers and can alert the driver to bypass the container due to late payment. On-the-go management makes for a more productive day."
For those with distant landfill destinations, Brown sees scales and software combining to ensure maximum legal loads. "Australia has quite a few transfer stations, and I see that trend continuing. The focus needs to be on working smarter. Technology doesn’t always provide a substitute for common sense."
Efficiency at the Transfer Station
|Contracted haulers use Metro Park East's new automated scale for quicker access in and out of the facility.|
"We are market competitive," reports Harold Anderson, chief counsel for the Solid Waste Authority of Ohio. "We are an independent government agency in Grove City, and our territory includes 13 municipalities and 20 to 30 townships, with a 1.2 million total population. We operate one of the largest publicly owned landfills in the country, with 854,000 tons accepted last year. Under Ohio law no vegetative yardwaste, no hazardous waste, no tires can be part of the solid wastestream. All else is fair game."
Anderson adds that the operation doesn’t collect solid waste, but it operates three transfer stations, which handle 250 truckloads per day. "We have a number of active recycling programs that we operate, including residential recycling programs in 11 multifamily apartment complexes in the city of Columbus, paper collection from approximately 400 commercial businesses, and even household hazardous waste collection. We run those programs with the idea of making collection of these materials as cost-effective as possible."
He reports that a successful pilot program with Columbus includes bins that take trash on one side and recyclables on the other. "A single truck picks up the bin, and recyclables are dumped into one compartment and solid waste in another. We’ve been able to achieve significant diversion in the pilot and believe it may help extend the life of our landfill. Although final averages have not been compiled, many weeks saw gross diversion reach 35% to 38%. The less we fill up landfills, the better off our constituent communities will be because landfills are obviously expensive to site and build, and we wish to reduce our communities’ reliance on them."
|The orange color-code lane is for customers to weigh in; the green color-coded lane is for approved contract customers.|
One of the newer features at the three transfer stations and landfill is a completely automatic scaling system. "The software package, IL Scalesystems, allows us to store tare weights so we can generate electronic tickets, saving vehicles five to 10 minutes per visit. Some operators will send 60 to 70 vehicles per day, so it’s a significant savings for the collection companies."
The Solid Waste Authority of Ohio also recently implemented a Web-based tracking software, Dossier 32 by Arsenault Associates, which allows it to track materials needed and used in its maintenance programs. "A computer-controlled maintenance system helps us with just-in-time inventory as well as with examining where we are having higher maintenance needs and where we could make changes in the operation."
A year ago the authority installed a tipper at the landfill so users could avoid the expense of live-floor trailers and maintenance associated with driving on the working face of the landfill. "It has significantly decreased turnaround time for transfer vehicles, saving us eight minutes per vehicle for our 83 loads tipped per day."
The authority also has software that allows it to track what each truck has carried to the landfill, how many trips to the landfill, mileage, and cycle times and driving times, and each truck is equipped with an automatic vehicle identification system that helps more effectively utilize the transfer fleet.
Midwest Operator Gains Market Share
The Metro Waste Authority, based in Des Moines, IA, also uses marketing strategy to help make the MSW operation more efficient. Historically it handled collections from 17 member communities, serving a total of about 400,000 residents. Now it serves 18 communities and 800,000 citizens.
As with their counterparts throughout the United States, increased regulatory pressure is a concern. Operations Manager Jeff Dworek says, "Regulations seem to be getting more stringent. Air quality is the latest. We’re monitoring the landfill to make sure we’re not releasing any surface emissions from the old disposal area."
The landfill is closed only on Sundays and three holidays a year, and Dworek points out that individual residents use the site. "They can unload on concrete into eight rolloff containers. We want to be more customer-friendly. We have to try to meet our customers’ needs. We had to do interesting things to gain back market share. We’ve signed up 90% of our customers to long-term contracts that offered lowered prices for total waste collection." This strategy has increased tonnage from 350,000 tpy to about 440,000 tpy.
Commercial customers have access to an express lane with an automated scale system that reduces weighing time to less than 30 seconds. "We’re using WasteWORKS by Carolina Software. Commercial drivers learned the system with just an hour’s instruction because once they know their ID codes, it’s a very easy system to learn. It took from one to three days to have all of our people comfortable with the system." But the system has helped them reduce labor requirements by about 50%.
|This input form is used to report, edit, and remove delinquent customer names from the central database.|
"We have to remain competitive," Dworek reminds, "yet meet all the regulatory requirements. We’ve also seen a 20% increase in airspace utilization, which extends the life of our landfill by 20%. We’ve reduced tipping fees from $31 per ton to $26 per ton, offering a $5 rebate, and have had that program running for three years now."
Another strategy includes running 25 trucks out of their transfer station, while boosting transfer production from 300 tons to 550 tons today. "We’re also looking at extending the storage capacity this spring. One challenge, though, is we have only two compactor units, and trying to get trip cycles more efficient is tricky. We try to average five loads per day per transfer vehicle, with the landfill 17 miles away.
"Because of WasteWIZARD, our trucks can go into the express lane at the landfill, cutting down their cycle time." Dworek also tweaks production by filling six trucks just before closing so they can be sent out first thing in the morning. "At gate opening, we’re moving 120 tons."
Down in Virginia
Speaking from his office in Chesapeake, VA, John Hadfield reiterates, "We’ve a lot of disposal competition in Virginia. Our agency covers a geographic area of about 2,000 square miles in the southeast corner of the state. There are over a million people in the area as well as four huge private landfills within 100 miles. They’re designed to take waste from the Northeast, but they also compete for waste from our region."
One of the elements involved in SPSA’s quest for better OWL is a waste energy plant that utilizes 2,000 tpd of waste. "It generates steam and electricity, with both going to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Excess electricity is sold to the local utility group," Hadfield says. Southeastern operates eight transfer stations handling anywhere from 50 to 1,300 tpd and a curbside recycling collection program serving about 155,000 homes with 23 vehicles running routes four days a week. Recyclables are collected every other week. Participation averages about 35%, fairly common for a voluntary program. SPSA also has 450 employees and 75 transfer vehicles pulling open-top trailers with live-floor bottoms.
Hadfield comments on a couple of programs that just didn’t fly. "We have 25 ash trailers hauling from the power plant. We tried onboard scales, hoping to speed loading time and maximize loads. But we still had to recalibrate the tare weight every time we unloaded because as much as 1,500 pounds of ash sticks to the sides and bottom of the trailers.
"We also tried a radio frequency [RF] scanner to help account for who was recycling and who was not. We put RF tags on the 18-gallon bins and a scanner on the truck. But after six months or so we found the scanners wouldn’t stand the weather or the motion of the trucks, so we had to abandon that system.
|WasteWIZARD, seen here at Metro Park East Landfill, enables automated transactions as drivers come across the scale.|
"But a continuous emission monitoring system helps us keep a history on all emissions at the waste energy plant. It allows us to optimize the fire so we get better output from burning waste, yet can tell when we’re pushing the limits on emission. This keeps us out of regulatory trouble."
Hadfield also reports that besides an automatic timekeeping program, which has eliminated one payroll clerk and provides for better tracking of overtime and time spent on specific tasks, SPSA has installed a data monitoring system on all trucks. "We can tell speed and idle times. We can’t tell where they are, but we can tell what they’re doing. We use it more for our safety program because it records speed before any accident and keeps us posted on the braking systems. It’s part of a better focused maintenance program for all our vehicles."
Again, as the focus is on solving the challenges involved in the wastestream, municipal-owned operations are getting more efficient, more effective. The end result is that solid waste handling gets more and more economical, which encourages residents to use the public system to help them solve their private needs.
Author's Bio: Journalist Joseph Lynn Tilton specializes in land and building issues.