For generations, the interface between garbage can and solid waste collection vehicle has been a burly man hefting a large barrel on his back. Now, increasing numbers of municipalities and large private haulers are replacing that time-honored “technology” with solid waste accessories—carts, containers, lifters, and tippers—that aggregate small quantities of refuse and recyclables in a receptacle, then transfer the receptacle’s contents into a collection vehicle in a mechanized or automated manner.
Solid waste officials trying to choose among the available accessory technologies face a bewildering dilemma. This industry is a very small world, with a few large multinational vendors, some small privately owned companies, and lots of secrets. Every player in this game is familiar with its competitors’ products, but few will share information about their own products that might compromise a perceived competitive edge.
The competition is so fierce that many solid waste accessory manufacturers won’t talk about the type and gauge of steel or plastic used to make a product for fear someone else will copy or improve upon the product or process, steal their marketing thunder, or twist their language in advertisements and sales pitches. Most manufacturers don’t include precise engineering and material-content information in their marketing materials, and most aren’t forthcoming about providing such details. Confronted with these sensitivities, prospective purchasers may have trouble making an informed buying decision.
The vendors’ reticence may even extend to announcements of sales results. “I am not always convinced that reported numbers are real,” says Doug Hill, sales manager at SCL A-1 Plastics Ltd. in Brampton, ON.
“We currently have over 23 million curbside bins [from 5 to 22 gallons] that have been sold during the past two decades, but the market is far from saturated,” Hill says. “There are still pockets in the United States with virtually no recycling. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania communities are doing a good job. So are California, Florida, Oregon, and pockets in other states.”
In an industry replete with secrets, four of the best kept are these:
- Most cart and container manufacturers have millions of units of excess manufacturing capacity. Firms that can create ways to use this excess capacity will dominate the industry.
- New plastic resins have risen in price to astronomical levels, forcing cart and container manufacturers to sell their products with little or no profit margin. Due to the stiff competition, they haven’t been able to pass on resin price increases to their customers.
- Competitive bidding also helps hold pricing on carts and containers at unrealistically low levels.
- The industry’s pricing techniques have erected barriers to market expansion. Municipalities typically buy solid waste accessories by the truckload or pallet load, and that’s how the vendors price their products. Thus, in the absence of acceptable pricing, any user smaller than a municipality or large private hauler cannot afford today’s state-of-the-art carts and containers.
When Miami, FL, purchased carts a few years ago from Schaefer Systems International LLC of Charlotte, NC, for a new “one-armed bandit” automated wastestream system, city and Schaefer officials distributed 60,000 carts from the turf at the Orange Bowl football stadium.
As mentioned, the typical purchase is by the truckload or pallet load. Manufacturers, as a rule, do not sell any product to mass marketers like Ace Hardware, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, or other large North American consumer sales organizations, making it difficult for a smaller user—a residential subdivision or a rural community of a few dozen to a few hundred—to purchase carts and containers.
PHOTO: REHRIG PACIFIC
Identity and Inventory
Curbside bins come in an incredible variety of sizes and colors. They can be hot-stamped on the sides and top with the logo of a municipality or private hauler. To encourage residents to use these carts, each should display a manufacturer’s hot stamp stating what it should hold, says Hill. “Make it easier for the homeowners so they don’t have to think what should be placed where,” he recommends.
“Communities add serial and bar code numbers to inventory their carts,” says Glenn LeMieux, product marketing manager for Cascade Engineering Family of Companies in Grand Rapids, MI. “Last year, Rochester, New York, introduced a new system using in-molded bar code numbers to track cart inventory, repair history, and warranty and theft information. The system should save about $200,000 in taxpayers’ funds from container replacement and dumping. A truck-based scanner links a cart to a specific address. The driver can enter repair or replacement information.”
The bar code number of each cart is scanned into the Rochester system when it is delivered to a building or household address. Later, if the truck driver sees a broken wheel, he will enter that information and ask for a pickup and repair or replacement order. Each day the information is downloaded into the system’s database. Rochester has a semi-automated wastestream system that requires the driver to get out of the truck at each stop. It takes him a few extra seconds to scan a bar code.
For more information about the Rochester project, visit http://www.cascadeng.com/pdf/Rochester12.03.04.pdf.
Size and Capacity
Wheeled carts come in three sizes:
- 95 gallons, with an empty weight of about 42 pounds and an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rating of about 340 pounds
- 65 gallons, with an empty weight of about 32 pounds and an ANSI rating of 220 pounds
- 35 gallons, with an empty weight of about 23 pounds and an ANSI rating of 125 pounds
In addition, many companies offer a 20-gallon insert that fits in the 35-gallon cart and is used for recycling. It carries the same rating as the 35-gallon cart.The size information above represents one company; other manufacturers’ products will vary from these norms.
Some companies test how much their carts will hold. According to Mike Knaub, senior vice president of Schaefer Systems, his firm’s 95-gallon cart is tested at up to 500 pounds, its 65-gallon cart is tested at over 300 pounds, and its 35-gallon cart is tested at over 200 pounds.
Wheel size is important. Trying to push a heavy cart with wheels that are too small can exhaust a homeowner and may be nearly impossible in snow or in rocky conditions.
“We design childproof lids,” says Knaub. “Lids are designed to hold up to 80 pounds without collapsing. Once people put solid waste in their carts, children don’t like to climb in them—but if someone is caught in a cart, the lid weighs just 5 or 6 pounds and is designed to be pushed open. Twenty years ago they were built with latches. Now they are not.”
In some communities, carts hold normal undifferentiated household waste. Elsewhere, smaller color-coded curbside containers are used to separate glass, newspapers, plastic, and metal cans. “In many communities, the goal is to reduce the amount of mixed waste rolled to the curb by separating out what the municipality or private hauler can recycle,” says Doug Howell, director of refuse products development for McNeilus Companies Inc.’s Street Smart Parts. Based in Dodge Center, MN, McNeilus is a subsidiary of Oshkosh Truck Corp. of Oshkosh, WI.
Containers: Big Rolling Boxes
Containers are big rolling boxes used primarily for commercial and industrial waste. Curbside bins are similar, used in residential and institutional settings.
Containers and curbside bins come in 2-, 4-, and 6-yard capacities, with easy-to-open lids and doors. The largest are big enough to hold an adult. They are popular with fast food outlets, neighborhood strip-mall stores, and small businesses including law and insurance offices. Typically they are green or brown, but the hauler providing the refuse collection service determines their color and the name or logo on them.
Some containers have dual bins, each with its own lid. Axle and wheel kits are available for many containers.
Containers designed for home and industrial use may be modified with locking mechanisms for use in holding, securing, and transporting medical waste, or for confidential banking and industrial documents destined for a shredder.
Lifters and Tippers
Lifters and tippers are hoist mechanisms that attach a cart or container to a truck and dump its contents into the truck. In general, a lifter is fully automatic and a tipper is mechanized (semi-automatic), but some manufacturers use the terminology in reverse. To be safe, look at the mechanism itself, not just what it’s called.
PHOTO: REHRIG PACIFIC
One lift manufacturer, Bayne Premium Lift Systems of Greenville, SC, makes the devices by sawing or sheering raw steel ranging in grade from standard ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) 36 to higher-yield steels such as 80 KSI (Kips per square inch) and 100 KSI, cold-rolled and hot-rolled steels, stainless steels, and aluminum. Bayne purchases its steel in sheet form from 14 gauge to 0.5 inch, and in bar and round stock in various sizes.
Bayne uses state-of-the-art CNC (computer numerical control) machining-centers equipment. The firm designs, builds, and tests its own prototypes. Its contributions to the lifter industry include a patented rack-and-pinion actuator for superior lifting capacity, lower maintenance, and ease of repair; greaseless/composite bearing systems; powder-coated parts; and a high-efficiency diverter valve.
Bayne lifters are designed to handle any common domestic ANSI-approved or European standard container, as well as non-standard containers including drums and round cans with stationary or mobile applications.
Historically, two or three employees worked every garbage truck. One drove; one or two others lifted garbage cans and poured their contents into a truck. “Communities using tipper and lifter systems have seen a large drop in workers’ compensation issues,” says Knaub. “The new systems use fewer workers, and the remaining workers expend less physical effort. Most automation has been done without loss of jobs, by means of normal attrition and reassignment of workers.”
One reason solid waste accessory manufacturers are so tight-lipped about their products and processes is the risk of reverse engineering. Since 2001, McNeilus’s Street Smart Parts has gone beyond supplying replacement parts for its own lifters. Each lifter contains thousands of parts, and Street Smart has reverse-engineered about 13,000 different parts for its competitors’ equipment.
“Our engineers take a competitor’s equipment apart, disassemble the part in question, identify its weak points, and upgrade the materials used to make it—from a lower grade of steel to a higher grade, for instance—and add strength to prevent cracking,” says Howell.
“It’s a totally new concept. To fit their form and function, which we are stuck with, we build in as many upgrades as we can to extend the usefulness of the client’s truck. We started with high-wear, easily broken pieces our clients complained about the most, focusing on cylinders—including the bearings, ejector panel, fittings, pins, and wear shoes.”
All of McNeilus’s Street Smart Parts and diagrams are accessible online at the firm’s Web site, www.mcneiluscompanies.com/. Parts are identified by their McNeilus numbers, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) numbers, and MTM (McNeilus truck and manufacturing) numbers. The parts are listed and described, and changes and upgrades are highlighted. Updates and additions to the parts line are posted frequently. Use of this database requires a free eDrawings reader from SolidWorks Corp. of Concord, MA.
Specifications and Reality
In most businesses, an entrepreneur gets an idea for a new product or process and builds demand for it, or a company perceives an unfilled niche and creates something to fill it. This isn’t the case for solid waste accessory manufacturers; they all compete for the same clients—primarily municipalities and large private haulers.
These clients specify, and they negotiate contracts based upon their specifications, which in turn may be based upon legislation or regulatory rulings at some level of government. How these laws and regulations are interpreted can vary according to the inventiveness and interest of local officials who determine what is picked up and how, and of the public and private haulers who do the actual picking up.
Recyclers pay more per ton for pre-screened waste than for waste they must separate themselves. A Toronto, ON, client of SCL A-1 Plastics Ltd. claims to have 425,000 homeowners sorting their recyclables.
Consumers know very little about this selection process and often can’t even figure out how to replace broken carts or containers. Perhaps some places have considered imprinting the telephone number to call for replacement on the carts and containers themselves.
Industrial firms, offices, and universities—a small and growing sector of the cart and container market—produce large quantities of discarded paper to be shredded or just collected and recycled. They typically use carts and containers with modifications of the designs created for curbside refuse collection.
“Community colleges, universities, and some municipalities are purchasing carts with slots on top for recycling cans and bottles,” says Cascade’s LeMieux. “Municipalities come to us for lidded bottle and can carts with an orifice that closes tight to keep out bugs and animals, for use in parks and public places. They also ask about carts that will hold discarded office paper.”
LeMieux says some of his firm’s industrial clients use containers to hold, organize, and transport parts.
Percentage and Pedigree
Carts and containers are designed and tested for use in a broad spectrum of climatic conditions. Many of the same products are sold in both Alaska and subtropical Florida. Carts are designed to resist cracking in especially cold climates, says Vivian McQueen, national sales and marketing manager for UltraCart Inc. of Washington, PA. “The blow-molding process uses high-molecular-weight high-density polyethylene, which produces a product that offers the best stress crack resistance of any molding process, especially in an outdoor environment of temperature extremes.” Also, she says, the UltraCart is repairable.
Most carts and containers spend their life sitting in the sun, which can be hard on the plastics used in their manufacture. “Carts and curbside bins are meant to take a beating,” says A-1 Plastic’s Hill, “but the sun is a plastic receptacle’s worst enemy. Plastics are organic compounds; eventually they break down in the sun.”
“Everyone uses ultraviolet inhibitors to protect their cart plastics from the sun’s rays,” says Knaub.
Manufacturers often reuse their own industrial waste in making new products. All carts and containers are recyclable, but they vary in the type and percentage of recycled post-consumer plastic they contain. Some states and municipalities specify such content.
The pedigree of the recycled content—its age and origin—also is important. Ground-up toys 15 to 20 years old can adversely affect the quality of the resulting products. Poor-quality recycled content produces new plastic that is brittle and may not endure through a manufacturer’s warranty period. The warranty is an important competitive point; having to make good on it with any significant frequency can become a competitive issue.
“We can use up to 50% post-consumer recycled materials in our 14-gallon and 18-gallon recycle bins,” says Maryanne Montieth, a marketing service agent at Otto Environmental Systems LLC in Charlotte, NC, “but we generally use about 20%. We meet customers’ requirements.”
“We typically use 50% recycled content,” says Hill. “Using more than 50% recycled post-consumer plastic diminishes the life span of the boxes and their durability.”
“We use up to 22% to 25% post-consumer recycled materials [PCR],” says Knaub. “Higher percentages of PCR may cause the product to lose integrity under tough conditions.
“We only purchase PCR material with the correct melt index and density such as recycled detergent bottles and milk containers.”
Mike Schwalbach, general manager of the environmental business group at Rehrig Pacific Co. in Los Angeles, CA, says Los Angeles requires one of the highest percentages of post-consumer plastic—30%. “We grind up their old containers that have been in use for over 10 years, along with materials including milk and detergent containers from the recycle stream,” he says.
What a cart or container can carry is limited by its design and the materials used in its construction. Some liquids can damage HDPE plastic with a high molecular weight. Hot ash may melt them. Other chemicals may compromise their structural integrity.
“Containers are light in weight and maintenance-free,” says Montieth. “Our four-wheel containers are equipped with two drainage plugs, making them easy to clean or to use with ice or liquids. We sell a lot on the East and West Coasts to be used outdoors, where rust is a concern. They are trainable—three loaded containers can be towed behind a golf cart.”
All of the solid waste cart and container manufacturers also supply products to other customers from the automotive, food, and industrial markets.
“Our engineers work on creating innovative products and solutions to solve customers’ challenges,” says John Kowalski, marketing communications manager for Cascade Engineering. “We are primarily plastic injection molders, but we also do a variety of other plastic processes.”
In addition, most solid waste accessory manufacturers also produce other HDPE products. SCL A-1 Plastics uses HDPE molds to make special orders for clients in the automotive and swimming pool industries. UltraCart and its sister company, Falcon Plastics Inc., make products in the holiday, housewares, industrial, lawn and garden, pet care, recreational, and toy categories, as well as drums, plastic pallets, and retail trash containers.