WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Response to “Reaching Into The Tech Toolbox”

Photo Credit: wendyusuallywanders.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: wendyusuallywanders.wordpress.com

This WEB EXCLUSIVE was submitted by Bill Brown in response to TFM Columnist Tom Condon‘s November 2008 article, Reaching Into The Tech Toolbox.

As long as the trash is picked up and gone on schedule I am happy.

This is the way most people deal with their waste management issues. There is an opportunity to save money with a bit of management of your waste.

First of all, if you have a dumpster or two at the rear of your facility and the public has access to that area, you are probably paying for their waste disposal. So what can you do about it? See if you have a problem by checking the containers on a Friday and then on Monday. Investigate if the containers have a bit more material typically in the form of plastic bags of trash.

Next, if people are adding to your trash, post a camera (or fake camera) and a warning notice not to dump. Recheck the container on following Friday/Monday to see if you have any improvements. If someone is still dumping, look for a bill or two in the bags (people are pretty stupid about this). Send them a letter indicating they are stealing services and will be prosecuted. That will end the theft of services.

So, there are no dollar savings from the waste company yet. Now that you don’t have outside contributors to your waste cost, it is time for you to do a bit more monitoring.

Most dumpster service is scheduled, and you pay dearly for each trip. Check when the hauler is picking up each container (if you have a cardboard and a trash container, the days may be different). On the day of the pickup, take a visual check of the containers to see how full they are. If they are not near full on a regular basis, reduce the number of pickups with the hauler. This can quickly save thousands of dollars a year.

I pointed this out to a vendor of mine. They checked their two containers and found they really needed only one container; this saved over $3,000 a year.

If the amount in the container is somewhat unpredictable, then go to an on-call basis (which takes a bit more work on your part, but you are not paying to service an empty container). Be aware that you can set up a schedule where the hauler picks up a container every other week or every third week. Make the schedule work for you, not the hauler.

Next, if you rent open top containers for specific projects, make sure you are prompt in calling the hauler when the container is full. Most haulers will charge you rent for the container. Although it may not be a lot of money, if you use open top containers on a regular basis, you can save a considerable amount of rental money by promptly calling the hauler when you are done.

Another quick note about open top containers: always price the container based on the actual container weight if you are typically light. Don’t pay for any included weight.

When it comes to open top containers, get three quotes. This is a very competitive area of waste disposal so take advantage and shop it.

Last area to supervise is compactor service. Compactors are either set up to be serviced based on a schedule or on-demand. The challenge here is figuring out when the container is truly near full, since the box is closed. Take a look at the weights reported on your bills and ask for a copy of the scale ticket from the landfill or transfer station to verify. Does what you were billed for match what the actual weight is? Now if the weights seem to vary a lot and some are very light, you are paying more than you should for service.

You may can try to use the “idiot lights” on the container to help you make a service decision. Many times, these lights will go on due to the material in the hopper at the time creating a bit more pressure, causing a rise beyond the limit point. This does not mean the container is full.

There is a better solution which is inexpensive and can save thousands of dollars. With the introduction of small computers called single board processors and high tech sensors, there are monitors which can be placed on a compactor and accurately determine the container fullness.

The technology does not stop there. The same monitor can send a message to the monitor service provider who will automatically send a work order e-mail to the appropriate hauler. The system monitors the hauler’s response to the request and provides support information to you, the client, in the form of online information and copies of requests sent to haulers.

So how much would this cost? One estimate is $600 for the monitor (one time license) and $900 per year for the service per compactor.

What are the likely benefits? That depends on the weight of the container and the service schedule. If you are on a twice a week schedule and the average weight of the container is about 4.5 tons for trash, you can reduce the number of service request by 78. So if you pay $250 per haul, that is $19,500. Even if you had one service a week at the same weight, you could save 26 requests or $6,500.

Maybe you work on the on-demand service model. Well let’s look at the issues:
1. The employee is using some method to determine fullness, the idiot light, the pressure gauge, pack out conditions, etc.
2. That employee now must make a call to a supervisor or hauler for service.
3. The hauler now must schedule and make the pull of the container.

There are three different points where the system may fail. If the container is serviced too early, you pay more due to extra service points. If the container is serviced too late, it could be overloaded and the hauler could require staff to remove part of the load or he could charge more. Next, the employee forgets or waits a considerable amount of time to make the call, pushing the service time by a day…or the hauler could miss the haul and no one is assigned to expedite the service. Again, more time lost, and the container is over full and cannot be used.

With the monitor, the service is consistent, managed, and supervised by someone other than your employees or the hauler. But more importantly, the monitoring decision is based on hundreds of checks within seconds of each cycle of the compactor. Due to the amount of information collected by the computer monitor, better decisions are made about the fullness of your compactor.

In summary, pay attention to your waste service and you can save thousands of dollars. Not all monitors work the same way, so do your homework. Most do not use onboard computers with adjustable parameters.

There are also companies who will say the monitor needs people to make it work right. That is just not true. If you can fly a plane in normal conditions on autopilot, you can make a computer monitor which can determine fullness.

Brown is president of Rochester, NY-based WMS Services, Ltd., a provider of the Compactor Sentry System. He has been an information consultant for the waste industry for over 25 years and has spoken at national waste conferences, presented papers on the waste management industry, and written a software system for the administration of waste companies.