It used be a threat growing up in my house. “If you don’t study hard, you’ll end up being a garbage man!”
The “garbage men” of my childhood were usually a trio who drove up Thursday mornings. One driver, and two others holding on to the back of the collection truck. They would stop one house at a time for about a minute, the two would jump off the back of the truck, grab up each one of the black plastic garbage bags, some of which were filled with our household waste, others with grass clippings and leaves from my weekly yard work. They would unceremoniously toss the bags into the back of the smelly machine and, if you were lucky, they would compact it right before your very eyes.
That was more than 30 years ago, before I went off to college and forgot all about those chores. I think of them now because I’ve blinked…and all of the sudden, we’re living in a different world.
In this world, the so-called “garbage men” are mechanical engineers. They are environmentalists. They are businessmen. They are inventors.
In this world, the waste and recyclables collection driver uses a mechanical arm on the side of the truck to reach out and grab a specific cart, one for waste, one for recyclables, and one for yardwaste. The process takes only seconds for the arm to pick up, lift, and then dump the contents into the top of the collection vehicle. Fast, safe, and efficient.
And in this world, as it is with so many things, the process seems to be evolving again. Faster, safer, and more efficient.
I was recently invited to the Heil Manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, TN, for the unveiling of its new Odyssey refuse collection vehicle. This is a front-loading truck, which enables the driver to always be looking forward, increasing safety in numerous ways. A Curotto-Can is mounted on dumpster forks. The automated arm is deployed from the side of the “can” to grab the carts, drop the contents into the can, and replace the carts. The arm is shorter, saving precious seconds on each pickup. When the Curotto-Can is full, the refuse is lifted and dropped into the main collection tank.
The Odyssey can also come equipped with its new CNrG (pronounced synergy) tailgate fuel delivery system, which relocates tanks of compressed natural gas from the top of the vehicle to the tailgate, lowering the height of the truck.
It was Heil’s mission to manufacture a purpose-built vehicle that was more agile, more operator friendly, and more productive than its predecessors.
It should be interesting to see how the industry will respond to Heil’s new products and the partnerships that went into their development. It will no doubt aim for vehicles that are easier to use with improved controls, more reliable with less maintenance, more fuel efficient and, of course, yielding greater production. My guess is that the evolution of these tools will also continue to push forward, perhaps with increased telematics and data mining. Like Heil, they may spend time focusing on decreasing vehicle weight while improving sturdiness.
On top of that, will we one day see the integration of all things waste? Will there be trucks that at least start the MRF process, or jumpstart anaerobic digestion? Maybe the carts that we dump our waste into at the side of the house will scan what we’re throwing away and prepare the collection vehicles, transfer stations, and even the landfill for what’s on its way.
As Heil and other manufacturers leap forward, they’ll need various researchers and all sorts of engineers, software programmers, and skilled operators in order to maintain the evolution.
So in this world I tell my son to study hard. And, hopefully, one day he can be a “Garbage Man.”