Changing times call for changing vehicles. That could be the new motto for today’s waste and recycling industry. Just as waste and recycling practices evolve in response to new innovations and technologies, so to do the tools needed to carry out those practices. This includes the vehicles responsible for the collection and transportation of municipal solid waste and recycling. Read on for a closer look at five of the major trends influencing how today’s professional haulers are managing, maintaining, and replenishing their waste and recycling collection fleets.
For the past several years, waste management companies around the country have steadily converted portions of their waste fleets to engines powered by natural gas, and that trend is showing no sign of slowing down.
Companies are turning to compressed natural gas (CNG), the most widely used option, to help control both their costs and greenhouse gas emissions. As carbon emission regulations become increasingly stringent, waste management companies and local governments are looking to get ahead of the curve and demonstrate to their customers and residents that not only are they dedicated to environmental sustainability, but they are committed to keeping customer rate increases down.
In general, companies that have made the switch to CNG are very pleased with the result; using natural gas helps protect them from the pricing volatility of imported fuels and leads to cleaner-burning and quieter vehicles, which are far more popular with customers.
Organic food waste collection has become very popular in recent years, with an ever-increasing number of municipalities offering some form of curbside food waste pickup. But while this is great news in terms of helping divert waste from the landfill, the initiative can pose a significant challenge for waste collection vehicles. Some of the problems that companies have to accommodate when handling organics and food waste include increased weight due to the amount of water that makes up the bulk of organic waste (most organic waste is much heavier than municipal solid waste, which can cause a collection truck’s weight to become a road concern), and an increased volume of liquid that is generated when wetter organic waste begins to break down (handling and unloading waste that is more liquid than solid can be problematic, as inadequate truck seals can cause this leachate to spill out onto public roads during collection). While new, specially designed organics trucks are in development, many waste management companies are also attempting to modify existing trucks to suit the needs of organics collection.
Workplace injuries and fatalities are a persistent problem for the waste and recycling industry, particularly in connection with vehicle safety and driver behavior. In response to this worrisome trend, waste management companies and associations are working harder than ever to promote and implement safety efforts and initiatives. Industry associations such as the National Waste and Recycling Association are partnering with representatives from organizations including the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety to create broad industry and public engagement concerning this critical issue. Specific initiatives include “Slow Down to Get Around” laws, designed to educate drivers about how to behave when attempting to pass refuse trucks, and distracted driving campaigns that discourage poor driving practices like texting.
Waste collection vehicles have joined the growing ranks of objects that are part of the Internet of Things, and one of the biggest benefits for waste and recycling companies and drivers has been the ability to leverage cutting-edge technology to allow for route optimization. Thanks to sophisticated on-board computing and GPS systems that allow the head office to verify timing and service execution at designated customer locations and monitor where a truck is and what it’s doing in real time, a collection vehicle’s route can be automatically optimized to ensure that an entire fleet is used to maximum effectiveness. Route optimization helps reduce overall mileage, the risk of driver overtime, driver error (in terms of driving directions), and the amount of effort needed for daily route planning and implementation.
Automated waste collection—that is, waste collection performed by one-person automated units rather than the more traditional manual rear-load vehicles—has been a growing trend in waste and recycling collection for several years. Driven by factors such as an aging workforce, a high rate of employee injuries, climbing labor and insurance costs, and ongoing pressure to provide more efficient service, automated collection has become an increasingly popular option among municipalities for residential waste collection, so far yielding significant benefits to companies and customers alike. However, some waste professionals still struggle with certain aspects of automated collection, including the need for a greater upfront investment to purchase the automated vehicles and increased public education to ensure that local residents are aware of how to properly prepare for automated collection.