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Wauwatosa's one-person recycling pickup project labeled a success

March 20, 2013

A two-week pilot program involving a new, more efficient way of picking up recyclables and household waste "went very well," said Public Works director William Porter this week.

"We're very pleased with the crews, the way they responded - they got done with their routes within the eight-hour period," Porter said. "Residents were very cooperative. We worked very hard to make it seamless for them."

The experiment involved using new automated trucks, which have huge sets of extendable calipers that lift the receptacle, dump the refuse into the truck, and set the receptacle back down. The truck's design makes it possible for one operator - the vehicle's driver - to pick up garbage without assistance.

Efficient experiment

This innovation, begun last year, had allowed Public Works to reduce the number of staff needed to pick up waste. But prior to this month's pilot project, the recycling runs had still been using two operators per old-style, rear-loaded vehicle - a driver and an operator outside the truck.

Porter wanted to reduce the number of trucks and routes necessary to do both runs from six to five, with one employee per truck, a savings that he projects at $70,000 to $80,000 a year.

Where, previously, separate trucks had been used for waste and recyclables, the Public Works' innovation used the automated trucks for both, picking up recyclables in the morning, and garbage in the afternoon, and washing out the trucks at the end of the day, so the next day's recyclables weren't contaminated by the garbage.

Garbage is picked up weekly. Recycling is picked up every other week.

"It worked out to about 350 recycling pickups a day per route, and about 700 garbage pickups per day, per route, on average," he said.

Under this new, so-called dual-use system, all five trucks start at 7 a.m., and do their recycling routes. When they are all done, they come in together, dump the 100 percent recycling at the transfer station. A tractor loads the recycling into semis, and it is hauled away.

"While he's doing that, while he's processing that, the trucks go back out and pick up 100 percent refuse," he said.

When they are all done, they dump the waste at the transfer station, and it is loaded into a separate trash-compacting truck, and hauled away.

Then the city trucks are washed out, so in the morning they are clean and ready to go.

Making it permanent

With the help of a consultant, who monitored the system, Porter is applying to the state Department of Natural Resources for a permit to make the change permanent. He said it probably would be month or two before the DNR takes action on the permit.

If approved, Wauwatosa would have the first dual-use pickup system in the state, Porter said.

This new system is another step in a two-year period of change in the collection business for the Public Works Department.

Purchasing five automated trucks last year reduced the payroll. And more savings were realized by changing the operator of the transfer station from Waste Management, under which the city's trucks had to haul waste to a landfill, to Veolia, which does the hauling itself. (Veolia has since been bought by Advanced Disposal services.)

In all, changes last year were projected at the time to save $325,000, in addition to the savings Porter hopes to achieve with the dual use system.

With the city's five automated trucks in service, Porter's next step, if dual use is approved, is to buy a sixth vehicle as a spare to manage the envitable breakdowns.

When he has acquired the sixth automated truck, he said he'll be ready to sell six old trucks.

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