Improve Worker Safety with Automated Waste Collection

Every employee deserves the opportunity to perform his or her job in a safe and healthy environment.

The front line workers within the waste and recycling industry know the safety and physical challenges of their occupation, particularly those working residential curbside collection routes.

Why be concerned with manual waste collection and worker safety?

Depending on the curbside collection route, a worker who is manually collecting and loading trash into a collection truck could lift up to 15 – 20 tons per day! Let’s not forget that the bags, cans, bins, etc. have to be carried from the curb to the truck. Throw in some unfavorable weather conditions and the fact that much of the time, this work takes place at the rear of the truck where distracted drivers approaching from behind just might not stop in time. This scenario offers many opportunities for unfavorable outcomes. Of course, manual collection is nothing new. Waste collection has been performed this way since the start of curbside collection and in some cases continues to be performed this way because of local geographic conditions. However, there are still many collection routes that have the potential to be converted to some form of automated collection. We owe it to the workers to explore these opportunities to create a safer work environment.

Automation in the waste collection business refers to mechanical lifting equipment on the truck and the type of container
An automated collection truck picks up waste carts.

Is automated waste collection something new?

Automation in the waste collection business refers to mechanical lifting equipment on the truck and the type of container (roll-out waste or recycling cart) used by the homeowner. The city of Scottsdale AZ has been cited as one of the first municipalities in the U.S. to use an automated collection system as early as the mid-1960s. The use of automated systems has since expanded throughout the U.S. into both suburban and urban settings.

What are fully automated and semi-automated waste collection systems?

Both fully automated and semi-automated waste collection systems employ special mechanical and hydraulic lifting systems and special wheeled containers that eliminate or reduce the need for manual collection. A fully automated system, sometimes referred to as “one-arm bandits” or “grabbers,” is a system that requires only a driver. From the cab of the truck, the driver operates an extending arm and grabber that lifts and dumps curbside carts into the truck hopper. Semi-automated systems do require a worker outside of the truck who rolls carts from the curb to the side or back of the collection vehicle where mechanical lifting equipment (cart tipper) is located. There is no lifting required by the worker. Both systems use wheeled containers or roll-out carts. These are plastic containers with wheels and lids, designed specifically for use with fully automated and semi-automated lifting equipment. Common sizes of roll-out carts are 35, 65 and 95 gallon.

What are the benefits of automated waste collection systems?

  • Reduced risk of worker injury related to lifting and handling waste.
  • Decrease in Workers’ Compensation claims and insurance costs.
  • Improves employee morale, employee retention, and employee relationships with management.
  • Decreased labor costs since fully automated systems require only a driver.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Improved aesthetics and public health. Wheeled waste carts with lids reduce windblown litter and help control odors.

Additionally, the waste cart adds to community aesthetics by giving neighborhoods a uniform look on collection day.

waste cart adds to community aesthetics by giving neighborhoods a uniform look on collection day
Schaefer carts are designed to last.

Automated collection systems, utilizing roll-out carts is a proven system that improves the work-life of waste and recycling collection workers. Both private and public sector operations are realizing the cost-saving benefits while giving customers an enhanced level of service. Conducting a deep dive into your current geographical conditions and current route costs is the place to start. It is very likely that there is a place for fully or semi-automated systems in just about every waste collection system.

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