TECHNOLOGY MAY HAVE improved waste collection equipment, but that doesn't mean waste haulers' jobs are necessarily easier. Collections of more types of waste, regulations, cost and customer service continue to challenge today's waste industry professionals. According to six collection managers who recently sat down with Waste Age (WA), customers are more savvy and price sensitive. “Also, the level of knowledge the consumer has about the waste industry has increased, forcing us to change the way we market ourselves,” says Cathy Arnold, Missouri district manager for Ft. Worth, Texas-based IESI.

Nevertheless, our six public and private sector collection manager roundtable participants remain undaunted by upcoming hurdles because they know it benefits their communities. Following is what our collection managers' roundtable participants had to say. The discussion included:

  • Cathy Arnold, IESI district manager, St. Louis, Mo.

  • Fred Heimbaugh III, H&H Disposal Service Inc., Williamstown, Pa.

  • Michael Hoyt, field operations director, City of Glendale, Ariz.

  • Jim Johnson, vice president of transportation, Peoria Disposal, Peoria, Ill.

  • Bruce Philbrick, solid waste superintendent, City of Loveland, Colo.

  • Bob Yoos, solid waste division manager, City of Lawrence, Kan.

WA: What current events and business trends are driving your business today?

Johnson: Over the past couple of years, there have been challenges with the down economy. We have given more attention to our receivables than ever before. State and local governments are imposing more fees and taxes because of budget problems. In addition, companies are looking for more cost reductions on their service.

Arnold: Consumers are price sensitive right now.

Heimbaugh: People are looking to smaller companies to get better service.

Hoyt: Cost containment. We're competing for scarce resources. If we don't do it correctly, the option is to privatize the service.

Philbrick: We're a municipal government, so customer service and responding to competitive pressures are high priorities.

Yoos: We have to be efficient, yet provide numerous services that the community wants to receive. We try to be customer-oriented. The biggest change I am seeing is the need to manage more elements of the waste stream separately, such as electronics, white goods and household hazardous wastes (HHW). We have to develop more employees with special skills and the means to handle certain wastes in a different manner than we have in the past.

WA: What hurdles are collection managers focusing on to improve operations?

Hoyt: The rising cost of equipment, with diesel engine emission requirements going up, and the rising cost of steel and fuel has increased the cost per mile required to operate a garbage truck. However, automation has created more efficient ways to collect refuse and reduced the number of injuries.

Yoos: A key concern is providing more specialized training to our employees so that they can perform more highly skilled tasks. We do so much more than just throw trash in a garbage truck. This challenge is best met by training the front-line supervisors.

Heimbaugh: Treating your employees well so they, in turn, treat customers well. This can be accomplished with a low turnover rate.

Johnson: The biggest concern is hiring people for the positions available. We believe most companies are competing for qualified drivers and mechanics with other transportation companies. We will continue to be diligent in our screening and maintain the standards we have set. We currently are fortunate to have an excellent group of people providing service and support for our customers. Our efforts are put into retaining people for the long term.

Arnold: Safety and compliance are an industry-wide concern, especially with rising insurance costs.

Philbrick: Keeping our programs cost-competitive and being able to justify what we're doing on the recycling side is important. Our challenge is to make recycling as efficient as possible, as well as keep track of our numbers.

WA: What challenges do you expect the solid waste industry to face in the next five years?

Hoyt: Environmental regulations, particularly with the trucks themselves. Since 9/11, most municipalities are incurring extra costs for homeland security.

Arnold: The challenge is to get the waste to the landfills in the most economical means, which means the landfills are under tighter scrutiny. We have to be the most productive to be profitable, and we can do that with better customer service.

Heimbaugh: The landfills are going to push out more companies if they are not corporate haulers. It's difficult to compete with big haulers.

Philbrick: Are we going to be an industry that's dominated by disposal or diversion? Or are we going to find ways to maximize diversion?

Johnson: The challenge over the next five years will be how to contend with the rising costs of health insurance and workers' compensation insurance.

Yoos: One of the biggest challenges in the next five years will be to maintain current recycling programs. Governments at all levels are experiencing financial shortfalls, and recycling can be expensive. Communities need to look at efficient, but effective, alternatives to the traditional curbside collection methods to handle recyclables.

WA: How have source-reduction and recycling issues and trends affected your business?

Arnold: It has been just another added feature that has reduced the amount of volume we send to the landfills. The partnerships formed by working with recycling companies have been invaluable, plus we've helped environmental causes.

Heimbaugh: First, people still don't want to separate the recyclables in their households, which makes the collection process difficult. On the other hand, we've reduced our landfill bill, which means we bring in more revenue.

Hoyt: We've kept everything in-house. We built our own recycling plant next to the landfill that we operate. We pick up recyclables and refuse on the same day. The constant problem is getting citizens to recycle correctly. Until community standards are the same, this is going to be an ongoing process.

Philbrick: The centerpiece of our program is pay-as-you-throw (PAYT), which creates the economic incentive to possibly steer people toward waste diversion. We don't have any mandates to implement waste diversion; we've done it because we think it's a good idea.

Yoos: Source reduction and recycling are in the forefront of our operations. We have a Waste Reduction and Recycling section that has the primary responsibility of public education and outreach on issues such as recycling, composting, HHW, small quantity generator (SQG) hazwaste, as well as many other special wastes. We also operate collection programs for recyclables and compostables and operate a HHW/SQG collection facility.

Johnson: Recycling is always a challenge. The biggest challenge is getting the costs covered through sale of the commodities and service charges.

WA: How have regulations affected your operations?

Arnold: We've had to get more permits, including the landfills. In essence, we have to spend more money to stay compliant.

Johnson: New regulations and standards, which are increasing the cost of equipment, will continue. We must be sure to pass those costs along in our service charges.

Hoyt: More than the cost, the new regulations have affected the performance of the refuse truck. There is concern that the new engines won't keep as cool. They will be more difficult to maintain, so we expect a difficult transition.

Heimbaugh: [New truck engines] have had drastic effects on the business. It's taking longer to finish routes. First, the engines don't last as long. Second, more stringent fuel emissions equal less fuel mileage. Finally, the lack of power in the engines affects how quickly routes are finished. We're now looking to buy older trucks.

Yoos: Changes in diesel fuel and added emission controls on engines will raise the cost of fuel and equipment. There also will likely be some associated higher maintenance costs. Regulations on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have increased the cost of handling refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners.

WA: Has other truck technology affected collection?

Heimbaugh: Although technology has mainly had an adverse effect on engines, everything else is for the better. You can't get as hurt, trucks have LED lighting, and, in general, there are more safety features.

Johnson: Manufacturers have made many improvements to trucks and collection equipment, which are beneficial for safety and operating efficiency.

Yoos: Equipment has improved greatly. Automatic transmissions have replaced standard transmissions, which reduces the wear on drivers. Automation also is reducing the potential for employee injuries. Truck capacity has increased, and there are better safety devices available.

Hoyt: Computerization and catalytic converters have made it more difficult, plus they're more sensitive to working in a contaminated environment. We see more little problems that will shut [trucks] down. But the most difficult thing is trying to put a face on the organization while trying to provide public services using automated equipment. Automation has made us more cost efficient but farther from the customer.

Philbrick: We see more options, designs that are more user-friendly and safety components. Solid waste technology is pretty conservative; we don't usually see dramatic changes.

Arnold: The changes have made trucks more efficient, so we can eliminate some routes and gain more business.

WA: Is finding, training and retaining workers an issue?

Arnold: We have a line of people waiting towork for us, so it has not been difficult to find good employees.

Heimbaugh: It has recently been a problem because we expanded during the past two years. We train people on new equipment; we believe that way they will treat it like their own.

Hoyt: We haven't had a difficult time finding qualified employees and retaining them. We're in a growth market and have a good pool of people to pull from.

Philbrick: We have a good workforce, offer great benefits, and have a four-day workweek. I'm pleased with our staff, customer service and safe work habits.

Yoos: It has not been a problem for us. We provide a great deal of training, and the individual employee has the potential for advancement if he or she wishes to pursue additional training and promotional opportunities. All of our drivers are promoted from within the ranks. All of our supervisory staff also has risen through the ranks. We offer competitive pay and benefits and therefore, most of our employees stay with us for the long term.

WA: What improvements have you implemented?

Hoyt: We have a more sophisticated routing system with an individual who does nothing but routing, which helps us to become more efficient. We also are using the Internet to publicize services and communicate with our customers.

Johnson: We have updated our billing and tracking systems to provide more information to help us operate more efficiently and provide an excellent service to our customers.

Arnold: Working on efficiencies in the business. Implementing management processes helps our business run smoothly.

Heimbaugh: We like to go to town meetings and hear public feedback on how we can make our routes better.

Philbrick: We have implemented a new fleet of recycling trucks. We maintain a multi-materials drop-off center where residents can drop-off appliances, tires, wood waste, batteries and more.

Yoos: The biggest improvements have been in training. Ten percent of our workforce has received 24-hour hazardous waste training and several have received 40-hour training. We offer training on computers, CPR, driver training, safety, and customer satisfaction as well as training in employee relations. Other major improvements have been in how we operate our crews. We developed a team-oriented approach to help even out the workload, and that has improved morale. Another improvement was eliminating yard waste from the waste stream and instead collecting it for composting. The finished compost is given back to the community for use on their gardens and yards, as well as city projects.

WA: How has the economy affected your operation?

Arnold: Besides the construction business being down, it really hasn't affected us that much.

Heimbaugh: People are more cautious about what they're spending, which has caused the construction industry to slow down, so the amount of C&D waste has dropped off.

Hoyt: Our economy has not been as devastated as other parts of the country, but it has added to the waste stream because people are moving more.

Philbrick: We haven't seen a big effect. We operate through an enterprise fund instead of a general fund. We generate revenue for the city, but because we have to follow the pay plan of the bigger organization, we haven't been able to enact any pay raises, even though our books are doing well.

Yoos: The economic situation has not affected us very much. Our community is one of the fastest growing in the region, so our customer base is constantly expanding.

WA: What advice do you have for collection managers?

Heimbaugh: Go on the route yourself with your loaders about once a month and find out what's going on. We must do the work with the guys to make sure they're doing it right.

Hoyt: Think strategically. Look five years ahead. That's where the collection manager needs to be. That's the only way to maintain a level of service that the customers have set.

Johnson: Work to assure good communication with employees and customers, and give thoughtful attention to their comments.

Philbrick: The biggest piece of advice is to be cautious about any big capital purchases. Research them and make sure they are compatible with the people and current operations. I have strong environmental convictions, and [working in the waste industry] is a great way to express my ideals through my career. It's a challenge getting policy support, but I make sure the elected body knows what we're doing.

Yoos: Keep an open mind and find out what works for others, then decide if it will work in your community. There are many variables from one community to another, and there is no one best way to manage solid waste. Curbside recycling is not the best method for every community; automated side loaders will not work in every community; PAYT rate systems will not work in every community. But we can learn from analyzing elements of other communities' solid waste management systems and decide what may help us with our operations.

What I like best about this job is that I have been allowed to put into practice what I have learned over the years. I got into the waste industry unintentionally. I accepted a temporary position [that] was supposed to last a few months. I was exposed to all facets of waste management including recycling, composting, hazardous wastes and municipal and industrial waste streams. [And now] I have been at my job 13 years. This allowed me to develop sustainable, cost-efficient programs on the municipal level.

Arnold: It's important not to forget the people who pick up the garbage everyday are the most important part of the business, as well as the customers. Remember that your workers and customers are the No. 1 priority.

Leslie Harrison is a Waste Age contributing editor.

CITY OF LAWRENCE, KANSAS

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: Solid waste management (including HHW, recycling, composting, and residential and commercial trash) for 20,000 residential and 4,000 commercial/industrial customers in city of Lawrence, Kan.

No. & Types of Trucks: 23 Sterling/Pak-Mor and McClain E-Z Pack rear loaders; 5 Sterling/Chevrolet roll-offs; 5 Sterling/Chevrolet hook lifts; 4 International front loaders.

Containers: 95 gallon Ameri-Kart automated carts.

No. of Employees: 95

PEORIA DISPOSAL

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: Solid waste collection and disposal in Central Illinois and East Central Missouri for 70,000 residential, 5,500 commercial and 650 industrial customers. Hazardous waste disposal in Midwestern and outlying states. Also hazardous waste transportation and treatment, wastewater treatment, brokerage services, analytical lab services, engineering and consulting services, and site remediation operations.

No. & Types of Trucks: 95 front and rear loaders: Ford, Freightliner, International and Peterbilt trucks with Leach and McNeilus bodies. 55 roll-off trucks by Ford and Mack trucks. 40 tractors by Sterling and Kenworth.

Containers: 1-yard through 8-yard steel refuse containers (front-end load and rear-end load) by WasteQuip and Mac Corp. 10- through 40-yard steel roll-off containers by Mac Corp, WasteQuip and Five Star. 64- and 96-gallon plastic roll-out carts by Toter (approximately 2,500) and Ameri-Kart (approximately 4,000).

No. of Employees: 500

H&H DISPOSAL

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: MSW hauling, recycling and disposal for 7,200 residential and 1,000 commercial/industrial customers in central Pennsylvania.

No. & Types of Trucks: 6 McNeilus E-Z Pack/Ford trucks; 4 McClain Accurate/McNeilus Hoists roll-offs; 2 Ford F-450 service trucks.

Containers: Valley Enterprise rear load containers; Accurate | Industries roll-off containers; Rehrig Pacific 32-gallon containers.

No. of Employees: 28 full-time; 5 part-time.

GLENDALE, ARIZ.

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: Garbage and recycling service for 51,000 single-family residences and 476 multifamily complexes.

No. & Types of Trucks: Class 8 cabover Peterbilt 320s, Volvo Xpeditors and Sterling Condor. 12 McNeilus, 2 Heil 7000, 3 Heil Rapid Rail and 8 Heil Star System automated side loader packers. 4 Heil and 2 Leach rear loader packers. E-Z Pack and Heil front loaders.

Containers: 90 gallon Rehrig Pacific, Schaefer and Otto containers. 400-gallon containers for alley collection. 54-gallon carts available upon request.

No. of Employees: 62

LOVELAND, COLO.

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: Curbside residential refuse, recyclable materials and yard waste collection for approximately 20,000 single-family and 2,000 multi-family units. An extensive multi-material drop-off center.

No. & Types of Trucks: 10 Wittke/Mack front loaders with Curotto Cans for refuse and yard waste; 6 Wittke/Mack front loaders with split cans for recycling; 1 Leach/Mack rear loader for mutifamily refuse; 3 New Way/Crane Carrier side loaders for yard waste; 1 AmpliRoll/Freightliner roll-off; 1 Stellar/Freightliner roll-off.

Containers: 32-, 64-, and 96-gallon European style Schaefer carts; 15-gallon SCL/A-1 Products residential recycling containers (two per household); 2- and 3-cubic yard Wastequip/May Manufacturing refuse containers.

No. of Employees: 22.5 full-time.

IESI ST. LOUIS DISTRICT

AT-A-GLANCE

Services: Environmental services including solid waste hauling and disposal for the St. Louis, Mo., metropolitan service area.

Containers: Rehrig Pacific carts in 20-, 35-, 65- and 95-gallon sizes and recycling containers in several sizes.

No. of Employees: 67 in the Missouri district.