The History of the Automated Side Loader – How One Small City Changed The Industry Forever


The modern refuse truck operator has it pretty easy today compared to his peers of yesteryear. Gone are the days of the “Vic Tanney” bodies and the driver lugging around 55 gallon drums on their backs. For haulers and drivers who collected trash for the majority of their lives, they were lucky if they could continue to stand up straight by the time they were 50 and their bodies weren’t completely broken. In 1968, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the injury rate among refuse collectors was higher than the rate for coal miners, police officer, firefighter or loggers. A report put out between 1969 to 1971 showed that nationally there were 98.8 disabling accidents per million man hours worked in refuse collection. Those numbers are staggering when compared with the next closest industry, police departments, which had 48.15 accidents per million man hours. A fact not surprising considering the nature of the job. Workers were required to jump on and off the truck continually, handle hundreds of containers, many of which were overweight and easy to drop.

An average worker could lift up to 6 tons a day and walk up to 11 miles in all type of weather, which led to multiple injuries and massive insurance claims to the hauler (if they offered insurance) and time away from work. This is why, even today, refuse collection is listed in the Top 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Why do you think so many of the articles in this publication and those like it are filled with safety related items? It’s a major concern and issue even with the advanced technology modern refuse trucks are built upon.

Now there has always been a drive in the industry from the truck manufacturers to deliver the highest compaction body to maximize on-route time over the competition yet they all required one key ingredient before the early 1980s: manual loading. Commercial collection already saw vast improvements in safety, productivity and cleanliness with the introduction of the Front End Loaders (the industry’s first automated truck) in the 1950s. Unfortunately, residential drivers wouldn’t start seeing some relief for another few decades. Let’s explore this history more in-depth.

Automated Side Loader

The City that Birthed a Revolution

Scottsdale, Arizona, a town northeast of Phoenix, incorporated in 1954 with a population of 2,032. After having a major annexation in 1961 that more than doubled its population, the city took over refuse collection from private contractors in March 1964. From 1960 to 1970, the city population increased from 10,026 to 67,823. The new Refuse Division was put under the direction of Marc Stragier, the director of Public Works. Looking at all the available systems at the time, Scottsdale chose to use the recently developed “Refuse Train” system used in many parts of the country. Even though the Train method was an improvement over the use of rear loaders, it still carried all the negative attributes of manual collection. Scottsdale also experienced a high personnel turnover rate due to the 110+ degree working conditions during summer months.

In 1965, the City Manager, Assistant City manager and three Department Heads formed a brainstorming club apart from the city to develop and promote new ideas. They called themselves Government Innovators and among some of the ideas to emerge was the concept of mechanized refuse collection. After searching for a body manufacturer to partner and develop the idea with, Marc found George Morrison, owner of Western Body and Hoist in Los Angeles. After some convincing and motivation, the creative juices in George’s head started to flow and a few months later, George and his lead engineer Otto Ganter met with Marc to show him a concept idea called the “Barrel Snatcher” based off their Wesco-Jet Front Loader platform.

Taking the idea and drawing to Bill Donaldson, Scottsdale City Manager for final approval, the City applied for a Federal grant to develop a mechanized residential refuse collection system. After the initial application was sent back, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a representative down to help edit and draft a second application. The new application proposed a two-phase demonstration: Phase 1—to determine if the concept was practical using city provided containers and if successful; Phase 2—build the sophisticated Barrel Snatcher truck to prove mechanized collection was economical and cost effective. The second draft was approved and awarded in February 1969 with the grant period lasting from March 1969 to June 1972.

Automated Side Loader

Phase 1: Godzilla

Now faced with building a proof of concept truck, it was decided to use a 1964 International Lodal Front Loader not in active service as the test bed. Marc designed the mechanical grabber assembly to attach to the front of the arms and after $2,000 in repairs were made to the truck to make it useable, construction and modifications began. The mechanic in charge of creating the grabber assembly, Chuck Kalinowski, remembers constructing the mechanism, “I didn’t know that Marc was in the shop one day and I was working on the slide, trying to figure out what he wanted there for the arm to grab the container. So I tried two or three different things, you know, just things we had around the place here. I said ‘Aw, for crying out loud, they want you to build something but they won’t give you the material, they want you to build a darned monster… a Godzilla!’ Marc was standing right behind me and from that time on, that’s what it was called.”

After some trial and error, Godzilla was finally ready to go on route in August 1969. The first container it picked up slipped through the grabber and fell into the hopper. Next, the brakes locked up and truck couldn’t be moved. After modifications and repairs, the truck operated for the next six months proving the concept of mechanized collection was sound.

An often overlooked aspect of creating and later adopting a mechanized collection system is the container cost associated with it. For the city, to order a “set” of containers and collection trucks ran about $40,000 (pre-additional modification) for equipment and about $120,000 the containers in 1970 dollars. Scottsdale had many alley routes and after a survey, they decided to use container sizes of 80, 160 and 300 gallons for collection service. The size of the container the customer received was determined by the number of days picked up, either once or twice, and the number of houses per container: one, two or four. It broke down to each household receiving at least 160 gallons of refuse capacity per week. County Plastics was initially awarded the contract for 350 containers in each of the three sizes. After the Phase 1 trials were complete, it was determined that the 80 and 300 gallon containers were the most effective. 300 gallons were used on alley streets while the 80-gallon shined the best for street-side collection. Godzilla and later Son of Godzilla was the most successful in the alleys with the 300 gallon, but too slow and bulky for the 80 gallon service.

Automated Side Loader

Phase 2: Son of Godzilla

Western Body and Hoist’s Barrel Snatcher was a modified version of their Wesco-Jet Front Loader. The Wesco Jet was a 35yd full pack body that evenly distributed the weight over two axles with four super single tires and a specialized cab designed and engineered jointly by Reo Motors and Western. Complete with an Allison automatic transmission and a narrow, air conditioned telephone booth cab, the Barrel Snatcher weighed in empty at 22,500 lbs. and had a GVWR of 36,500 on the two axles. With three years of engineering going into its design, the Barrel Snatcher featured an 8-foot boom, which could extend out to 12 feet to grab the 300 gallon containers. Cycle time from pick up to set down was only 20 seconds.

Modifications and improvements were required after the first unit went online in October 1970. A joystick was added later to help improve operator control as the boom had a tendency to knock down fences in the alleys due to the uncontrollability of the rotary motor that swung it. The frame at the base of the boom was beefed up due to frequent cracking due to weight, in addition to a heavier duty rotary motor that swung the heavy boom. The extension cylinder was moved to the outside of the boom to reduce the six hour repair time needed to get at it when it was mounted inside. The city sent these lists of improvements to Western to be implemented on the second truck they ordered.

Due to the national popularity of the Phase 1 Godzilla truck, the Barrel Snatcher was affectionately called the “Son of Godzilla”, which only served to fuel local and national interest in what Scottsdale was trying to do. The city invested a lot of time and effort to sell the new concept to the public and they constantly fielded requests from foreign dignitaries, state and city governments to come and personally view the trucks in action and on route.

During the construction of the second Barrel Snatcher, George Morrison’s partner and co-owner was killed in an accident. In order to provide and take care of his partner’s widow, George decided to sell the company to Maxon Industries in December 1970. After study, Maxon expressed no desire to continue development, sales or orders for Barrel Snatcher concept with the City, although they did agree to honor the original contract for two additional trucks. The City received many postponements and delay’s from Maxon and finally threatened to sue for breach of contract. None of the improvements recommended by the city were implemented in the second truck when it was delivered in May 1971. The mechanics were well versed in the necessary improvements and changes needed to be made and when the second truck started going on route, the original Godzilla that was built to last six months of the concept phase was finally retired after two years on route.

Automated Side Loader

The Concept Fully Realized

After Phase 2 was complete and the third and final Barrel Snatcher was delivered from Maxon in 1973 (two years after it had been ordered), the city continued to improve upon the arm design and even modified three city owned Wesco-Jet Front Loaders to Barrel Snatcher configuration in-house to expand their growing mechanized routes. However, they realized a more permanent solution was needed when it came time to start replacing their aging fleet. Marc Straiger continued to work on designs for an improved automated arm that could be fit to different side load bodies and was not specific to the now discontinued Maxon Wesco-Jet. He designed a prototype to be tested on one of the city’s experimental truck beds and it later came to be known as the “Rapid Rail” arm. It consisted of a grabber assembly with rollers on the rear which allowed it to slide up and down the rail that curved at the top to invert and empty the container.

The city eventually ended up abandoning the project, yet a few companies had taken the idea for Marc’s “Rapid Rail” and developed it into an effective system by 1978. Government Innovators (now a fully realized company), Arizona Special Projects and Ebeling Manufacturing Corp (EMCO) all offered a version of this arm to the public. EMCO was the first company to offer market ready automated packages with their arm design based on Straiger’s “Rapid Rail” for commercial side load dumpsters. However, their arm could be easily modified with “Rapid Rail” grippers for cart collection. Maxon, who had no interest in pursuing further Barrel Snatcher product development with the city after their purchase of Western, finally saw the future in automation and offered their integrated Eagle cab and body truck with an arm copy of the Rapid Rail by 1980.

When it came time for the city to start replacing their worn out fleet of Barrel Snatchers in 1978, they turned to International Harvester chassis with Norcal Waste Equipment 24yd bodies fitted with a modified EMCO lift arm. Each truck cost the city $58,000, which was a bargain compared to the last Barrel Snatcher that cost a low estimate of $63,230. What many people don’t know is that Norcal in Oakland, CA was started after the sale of Western by Otto Ganter, the lead engineer and designer of the Barrel Snatcher.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In 1980, the city did a comparison to see if the mechanized trucks lived up to their original idea and potential. The numbers were quite staggering and especially in an unforgiving climate like Southern Arizona, well worth the effort and money spent. According to the records and findings from the city: in 1968, 34 men were employed to collect 17,800 homes twice a week. By 1980, 13 residential routes were needed to collect 24,000 homes twice weekly with 13 drivers. The city estimated that if the train method was still being used in 1980, 18 pickup trucks, 72 trailers, seven front loaders and more than 60 men would be required. The injury rate was also reduced from 36 preventable injuries a year average using the train system to only 1 in 1980.

Production rates also increased per man. In 1968, the average was 95 tons per man compared to 212 tons by 1980. They also showed a drastic reduction in employee turnover from 91 percent in 1986 to one employee who left and transferred to another department within the city. While some of the costs of running more advanced trucks were passed on to the residents in terms of monthly collection cost, the state of their streets, alleys and roadways was greatly improved over manual collection, which often left trash and debris in its wake. Their aggressive advertisement and citizen buyoff of the program went a long way to mitigate the town’s outcry over the increase in cost.

Slow to Catch On

Throughout the 1980s, body manufacturers continued to develop and improve the automated arm. For the average hauler, however, it was a gigantic investment in new fleets and carts—one that they were hesitant to make. Municipalities were some of the early adopters to automation due to the fact that they could justify the initial investment by projecting the savings over long term. Automated technology didn’t really take hold nationwide until the 1990s when the technology and arms were more proven and reliable. Even today, the arm design on an ASL is the most competitive feature builders continue to refine and market. Some builders have multiple arm or gripper designs available for customers to choose from, each with their own unique use and application. Also, many haulers tend to stick to one design because it’s a system they adopted early on and know and trust. I can say with absolute confidence that there is no “best arm and gripper” on the market. Each has their strengths in different conditions (alley, confined space, parked cars) and some perform better than others. The Automated Side Loader is still the new kid on the block compared to the rest of the refuse truck styles and there hasn’t been an “industry” standard design established yet. But next time you see one on the road or hop in one to run your route, think about the blood, sweat and cursing a special group of men invested to make your lives a little bit easier and a whole lot safer.

Zachary Geroux is a videographer, photographer, historian and owner of Refuse Truck Photography, which focuses on media and marketing for the Waste Industry. He lives in Western Washington with his wife and newborn son who will soon fall in love with garbage trucks. Currently, he works full time for the Air Force and is focused on growing his business. He has been driving garbage trucks off and on for the past 10 years and considers it the best job he’s ever had. He can be reached at (541) 301-1507, via e-mail at Zachary@refusetruckphotography.com or visit www.refusetruckphotography.com.

*Special thanks to the City of Scottsdale for sending me years and years ago their self-published booklet “Revolutionizing an Industry.” Without this amazing documentation of strife and effort to create and field this system, this article and the knowledge contained within might have been lost forever to the coming generations.

Reposted by WIH Resource Group
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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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The Past, Present and Future of Recycling


The Past – We’ve Come a Long Way!

Past

Recycling has come a long way over the past few decades – in the US there wasn’t a single recycling program in place until 1973 (in The Hidden Past of Recycling you’ll read that the concept of recycling was widely used in the past, however only privately or individually). Now, there are over 8,000 programs in operation. The first ever curbside recycling program in Canada began in 1973, the program initially served 80,000 homes in the Toronto area and eventually curbside programs and recycling centers were all over the country.

While we’ve come a long way since the explosion of the environmental movement in the 1970s, our recycling programs still have a long way to go as a collective group. Keep reading and you’ll see how we currently reduce our waste today and how we can improve our recycling habits in the future.

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The Present – Strategies for Zero Waste

Recycling Blog

Currently the US recycles about one third of the municipal trash (waste generated in homes, schools and non-industrial businesses) and Canada recycles about 21 percent of what would otherwise end up in the solid waste stream. Here are some strategies you can do today that will immediately increase how much you recycle:

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Closing the Recycling Loop

Separating your trash from your recyclables is only one step in the recycling loop – in order to close the gap, manufacturers need to start making more products out of recycled material and consumers need to focus on buying these products. Creating merchandise from scratch is often very harsh and damaging to the environment, the more life that we can get out of a product made from post-consumer recycled content, the better!

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Compost, Compost, Compost!

The amount of organic waste that ends up in landfill or burned in an incinerator is a little alarming – 60 percent of household waste in the US is compostable but only 8 percent of Americans compost. Canada has done a fairly good job on the composting front – as of 2011, over half of Canadian households (61%) had participated in some form of composting. If you have a green thumb, composting is the way to go – you’ll never have a better looking garden in the summer!

And if you’re an enthusiastic early adapter to up-and-coming composting trends, be sure to take a look at The Humanure System, which you can guess from the name, involves recycling your poop—and no, it’s obviously not for everyone…

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Keep the Garbage Bucket as Empty as Possible

Recycling and composting are great ways to keep what’s going in the garbage to a minimum, but there are more ways to stem the garbage cans’ burly appetite. Pre-Cycling is a great way to reduce how much trash your house is sending to the curb – buying in bulk to reduce packaging, using reusable bags, having a refillable water bottle or coffee mug – these are just a few examples of how you can pre-cycle..

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The Future – Strategies to Boost Recycling Rates

Future

While recycling has increased in North America, the amount of trash produced has increased as well. The amount of material recycled today equals the total amount of trash produced in 1960. While recycling programs are a continuing success, experts say in future we should focus on limiting the amount of trash we produce to begin with, doing so will help lower the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the air.

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Updated and Expended Bottle Bills

Having a bottle bill in place is a very effective way to get people recycling. A bottle bill (or container deposit law), requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers ensuring they are returned for recycling. Ideally, every state should have a container deposit law, but unfortunately only 10 states have a bottle bill in place – many of which don’t include plastic bottles. If more states could enact and expand these laws, the amount of plastics ending up in landfills would drop drastically.

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Manage Electronic Waste

Technology is always changing, and with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops over the past decade, it has meant an increase in the amount of electronic waste that is being produced. In 2011, the US generated 3.41 million tons of e-waste, of which only 850,000 tons were recycled – the rest ended up in landfills or incinerators, the toxic chemicals that electronic components are made from end up seeping into our soil or up in the atmosphere. Businesses that sell electronics are beginning to take responsibility for the amount of e-waste produced, offering trade in programs allowing them to recycle unwanted gadgets – some even give you some money back!

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Stop Using Plastic Bags

This ties back to pre-cycling, but the numbers on how much plastic bags are thrown out versus how many are recycled warrant its own section – 380 billion plastic bags are used a year in the US alone and less than 5 percent are recycled! Plastic made with PET (polyethylene terephthalate, in case you were wondering why we needed an acronym for it) do not biodegrade, they do break down in UV light (photo-degradation), but that can take 10-100 years. That’s if exposed to sunlight, and since most garbage is buried at a landfill, the whole process takes even longer.

Currently, less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000—the recycled product can then be sold for only $32. We don’t claim to be the best mathematicians in the world, but we’re fairly confident we wouldn’t want to enter into the business of recycling plastic bags for profit.

Efforts are being done all over to get people to ditch the plastic bags, supermarkets offer reusable cloth bags and now charge you for plastic bags, and San Francisco has even flat out banned the distribution of plastic bags in the city. Fingers crossed that these measures are the beginning of the end of the dreaded plastic bag.

This should most certainly be enough information to get your started on your way to recycling stardom. Stay tuned and we’ll fill you in on the sensible, not-so-sensible and downright strange recycling trends that you’ll start to see in the coming years—including, of course, recycling your #1’s and 2’s.

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Matt Bradbury

Written by Matt Bradbury – Sustainability Research Analyst

Information provided to you by WIH Resource Group, Inc

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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7 Tips To Increase Your Productivity


With more demands, and what seems like less time, we are all looking for ways to increase productivity during our work days. Here are 7 simple tips to give you back some control in your work day and help you become more productive.
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1. Create a To-Do list
Before you start each day, make a list of your must do items. This keeps you on task and can bring you back to focus when you keep your list in front of you while working. We suggest you make it a paper list so it is visible at all time.
2. Take breaks
We all seem to overwork ourselves and don’t realize when we need a break. Allow yourself to take breaks when you find that you are getting overwhelmed, stressed, if you start losing concentration, or just need to clear your mind for a few minutes. Step away from your desk take a walk around the office or just stand up and stretch.
3. Weed out distractions
Social Media, push notifications and today’s technology make it easy to have constant distractions. Turn off the notifications on your phone and computer except for crucial appointment reminders so you are not constantly distracted. It is easy to get side tracked from one text or notification and realize 20 minutes later that you have completely lost focus.
4. Designate time to read emails
Allow yourself to check emails in the morning, after lunch and before you leave the office. When you are constantly checking your inbox and reading or replying to every email, it sucks down your productivity time. If you are sending out emails and need them to be responded to promptly, assign a Priority tag to them.
5. Sleep early and get up early
Take a look at every top executive, CEO or successful businessperson and you will find that they all have one main thing in common – they wake up early. Waking up early gives them time to get their morning started without being rushed, stressed and limited on time. Going to bed early ensures they are rested and recharged to start the next day.
6. Focus on one thing at a time
We have all heard that multitasking is detrimental for productivity. It reduces the performance of any task that we do when not being fully focused. Studies have shown that our brain is strained when we are constantly shifting between multiple tasks at one time. Would you rather complete one task with excellent results, or 3 things with mediocre results?
7. De-clutter and organize your environment
When you are working in a cluttered environment, it creates unnecessary stress on your mind and body. It is like having a stack of unopened mail that you know you need to get to. Not to mention, it is a distraction. Clean up your workspace so you can stay focused and more productive.
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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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Renewable Portfolio Standards drive the waste-to-energy industry


There is one single, constant driver that can propel the WTE industry forward or hold it back, and that’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS). These RPS’s are policies in 29 states and Washington, DC to increase renewable energy, usually from wind, solar, biomass, and sometimes landfill gas and municipal solid waste.

USA Renewables by State

How much capital is allocated to each of these sources depends on what “tier” within the RPS it is placed. Tier 1 generates more revenue than tier 2, allowing WTE technologies in this higher category to compete with solar and wind, which are the energy-producing forerunners right now. While biomass, biogas, and other WTE grew by 15% since 2008, wind grew by 65% in 2014 alone.

Then there is a market driver at the federal level: the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The law requires utilities to buy electricity from a qualified facility, but to only pay what it would cost the utility to produce that electricity.

“So they pay a relatively small amount, which rarely pencils out for renewable energy producers,” said Brian Lips, DSIRE project manager at North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. “But the RPS places [renewable energy producers] in a position where they don’t have to compete with fossil fuels; rather they compete against other renewables.”

Sometimes biomass, one of the more widely used WTE sources, is in tier 1 on the RPS. But what counts as biomass gets tricky as there is no standard definition; so feedstocks under this umbrella vary but could include organic materials like trees, crops, and animal waste.

How Maryland pays out for trash-to-energy

One state standing out on the WTE front is Maryland, the only state in the country that places trash-burning incinerators in tier 1, according to Energy Justice Network Founder and Director Mike Ewall. This incentive drew New York-based Energy Answers International to Baltimore, where it got a permit in 2010 to build what would have been the largest incinerator in the country — one that environmentalists vehemently protested, arguing the emissions would threaten public health.

Just last week, following a long, hard fight between Energy Answers and its opponents, Maryland announced that the incinerator project is no longer valid, stating the permit became void after an extended construction delay.

Some states have left trash incineration out of the RPS altogether, such as New York, which only allows the burning of biomass. However, that state is subsidizing crop burning. “Rarely can you make it work to grow crops just to burn them; it’s too expensive. But New York and Iowa have burned grass and or trees for electricity,” said Ewall.

Meanwhile, commercial scale trash-burning incinerators seem to be fading from the landscape. One to be built in West Palm Beach will be the first such plant launched in 20 years, at least on a new site. Many others are shuttering or at risk of closing, with the number currently in operation having fallen under 80 for the first time in decades, largely because of their cost.

Introducing more energy sources to the playing field

In quest of new options, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia have put fossil fuels in their RPS, bringing a whole new category onto the playing field. “They are the first ones [and only ones] to do this,” said Ewall. He added that Ohio has put nuclear in their portfolio in addition to fossil fuels. And a fairly new industry direction is to pelletize trash and market it to existing boiler plants for energy.

Some of the growing options — and their price tags — are sparked by regulations mandating the amount of electricity that utilities must derive from renewable resources.

“In California where 50% of energy has to come from renewable sources, utilities may pay more. But in North Carolina where just 12.5%  has to be renewable, utilities have more bargaining power,” explained Lips.

The renewable energy market is particularly strong in New Jersey, and Hawaii has the most ambitious goal in the country: 100% renewable energy by 2045, he said. The island state has two motivators: outrageously high electricity rates as it burns imported oil, and its vast renewable energy resources.

How the Federal Clean Power Plan is driving state policies

More change may be on the horizon if EPA’s Clean Power Plan unfolds. It’s part of Obama’s push, claimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel and coal-fired power plants, which would allow for natural gas and renewable energies such as biomass, incineration, and natural gas.

Analysts project this law will be a major market driver, and it’s already proving to be, at least in the natural gas front. There are about 300 proposals for gas-fired plants in the United States now, according to Ewall.

“Most were underway before EPA adopted the plan. But they were [further] fueled by the rule. So Clean Power would be a major driver to push for natural gas,” he said.

Source: Waste Dive

Published by WIH Resource Group

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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More information on WIH Resource Group and its services can be found at www.wihrg.com.

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Five Commandments for Down Recycling Commodity Markets


The accumulated wisdom of scrap recycling veterans leads to five important rules to help cope with difficult market conditions.

By Brian Taylor, Editor – Recycling Today

 

 

 

Illustration: Matt Collins

 

Scrap recycling company owners and managers live in a workday world in which changes can occur suddenly or, conversely, in which a distressed market can linger far longer than what is tolerated in many other sectors.

Industry veterans, thus, are not greatly surprised when prices drop sharply and stay low for an extended period, and likewise they have seen previous stretches where material generation goes into an extended slump.

The ability for a company to survive an extended downturn takes not just experience and knowledge, industry veterans say, but also discipline and foresight.

An entire management book could be written based on the accumulated knowledge possessed by recyclers who have weathered three or more market downturns of the sort that have put some of their competitors into receivership.

For the purpose of trying to distill some of that same knowledge into a format that can fit into a magazine article, what follows are five rules or commandments that fit within any lengthier volume offering advice on how scrap recyclers can manage through turbulent times.

By no means do these five commandments (or, if you prefer, strong recommendations) tell recyclers everything they need to know about how to survive a downturn. However, based on the common threads that emerged in talking to recycling industry veterans, they offer a good place to start.

i. thou shalt not take on burdensome debt.

Business loans and good banking relationships are as integral to the scrap business as to any other industry or service sector. What scrap recyclers seem to overwhelmingly agree on, however, is that the volatile revenue stream inherent to recycling means that debt-to-equity ratios that might be acceptable in other sectors can be a recipe for insolvency in the scrap business.

“Historically, it has proven to be true that lulls in business are great times to make changes: equipmentwise, efficiencywise and even just a change in business direction.” – Keith Highiet, Modesto Junk Co.

When scrap prices plunge and scrap volumes diminish, the monthly revenue for a scrap firm changes dramatically.

Recycling company owners may not agree precisely on when it is suitable to take out a loan or how much debt is too much, but they are nearly unanimous on the idea that there is a line that should not be crossed.

Overall, for a business to achieve a certain scale, “debt is not avoidable,” says Kevin Gershowitz, a principal owner of Gershow Recycling, Medford, New York. “But many times, industry members don’t manage debt well,” he continues. “While too much debt is never a good idea [in any business sector], in a commodity business and in a weak market, too much debt is a death knell.”

Melvin Lipsitz of M. Lipsitz & Co. Ltd., Waco, Texas, offers a blunt assessment: “Debt is a bad thing anytime. Typically, the interest you pay on debt and the typical net margin of profit for this industry [mean] the cost of money, even at low interest rates, can dissolve profits.”

Nonferrous scrap recycler Mark Lewon of Utah Metal Works, Salt Lake City, says that among the many scrap firms that purchased auto shredders during the (largely) bull market from 2003 to 2013, those who financed their purchases likely have learned a hard lesson.

Lewon, who also currently serves as chair-elect of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, states, “The buildup in shredders was fueled by debt. Now few, if any, shredders get enough material to run more than a couple of days per week. If that amount of volume isn’t enough to cover the payments, there is going to be a problem.”

Industry veteran Albert Cozzi, currently a principal with Bellwood, Illinois-based Cozzi Recycling, expresses a cynical view toward lenders, commenting, “Banks will always lend you whatever you want, as long as you don’t need it.”

The distressing corollary to that, he says, is that “in this environment,” when recyclers may benefit from a loan to supplement slumping revenue, banks “are just not lending to commodity-related businesses.”

Lewon says, “Debt is a tool, but it is a dangerous tool in that if the calculations for servicing that debt are inaccurate, and if volumes or margins fall short, disaster ensues.

“The bottom line is that the less debt a company has going into difficult economic times, the better the chances of its survival,” he adds.

ii. know thy costs.

Making a concerted effort to understand where outbound dollars are going and whether they are being spent wisely is an endeavor that proves worthwhile far beyond the scrap recycling industry. This knowledge proves particularly critical in a scrap industry downturn, however, when it comes time to react quickly to new market dynamics.

Sources cite careful recordkeeping and industry experience as factors that help savvier operators fully understand how and where money is being spent. “Those operators or entities who have been through prior low cycles understand the basic rule of ‘know your costs,’ managing your costs and keeping your costs low,” Kevin Gershowitz says. “This rule also allows for greater profits during better markets. The experience factor is very important.”

Steven Safran, president of Chicago-based wire processing firm Safran Metals, advises, “You should be running the business the same in the good times and the bad times, not just waiting for the bad times to ask, ‘Oh, where can I cut my costs?’”

Kevin Gershowitz expresses the same thought, saying, “The only way to survive the wake-up call [of a tough market] is to eliminate waste and fat. In good markets, efficiency can wane and costs rise. It’s easy to keep paying. However, in bad markets, those players that consciously choose to survive deliberately review their costs, efficiencies and spending.”

Cozzi offers a similar perspective, saying, “I am a big believer that operationally, when things are good, you run things as if things were going to get bad. That way, when things do turn bad, you don’t have to make many operational changes.”

The hard work is in the details, Cozzi adds, remarking, “It is important to look at every line item on the income statement regularly to see where costs can be reduced. Also, it is important to look at every item on the balance sheet to see where cash can be squeezed out.”

“The less debt a company has going into difficult economic times, the better the chances of its survival.” Mark Lewon, Utah Metal Works

When a downturn hits, “Yes, you may have to change to adjust to volumes,” he says, “but whether things are good or bad, you have to look at your business every day and find ways to be more efficient and continually improve operations.”

John Tiziani, chief financial officer of Gershow Recycling, sums up this management principle by stating, “The companies that know every detail to their businesses survive in low markets and thrive in high markets.”

iii. thou shalt not overpay for material.

The adage “Scrap is bought, not sold” is one of the first phrases someone new to the industry learns, and the importance of the phrase is magnified when scrap buyers are operating in a declining or depressed market.

In bad times or good, prices paid for inbound material are likely the biggest numbers on the expenses side of the ledger, so avoiding overpaying is directly related to the “Know thy costs” commandment.

What veteran recyclers observe, however, is that overpaying can cause even more harm to a company’s balance sheet during bad times, and yet some company managers have a greater tendency to make this mistake in a market slump as they try to meet volume projections.

“Warren Buffet says, ‘You cannot buy market share; you can only rent it for a short period,” Cozzi says. He says the purchase of any grade from any supplier should be scrutinized as to whether it is contributing to profitability.

“Most scrap companies are looking at average cost of their purchases rather than incremental cost or marginal cost of both their feedstock and their operating expenses,” Cozzi says. “During good or bad times, the most important financial metric is contribution margin. Very often those marginal tons are providing negative contribution margin.”

Cozzi, who helped run Chicago-based Cozzi Iron & Metal before that family business was sold to Metal Management Inc. (now Sims Metal Management) in 1998, says maximizing volume may keep machinery active, but that does not necessarily make it the right approach.

“Whether our family ran one or 40 yards, we always did a sensitivity analysis for each yard to make assumptions [about] what price would provide what tonnage, and at what levels is contribution margin maximized. Generally, that answer is at a lower tonnage and lower price point.”

Safran says his family company has remained a modestly sized business in part because it follows this same logic, even during boom markets. “This is the reason Safran Metals has been lean over the years: If we’re looking to pick up new business, we want to pick up business that makes sense. We’re not just looking to pick up marginal business. And I’m guessing too many dealers pick up marginal business, and especially business where you also have to increase your overhead. If so, then you’re putting yourself in more of a risk situation.”

Elliott Gershowitz, a co-principal at Gershow Recycling, along with his brother Kevin, comments, “Don’t overpay for market share on the basis of more volume. You can make the same profit if not more sometimes just by widening your spread and working on lower volumes.”

Kevin Gershowitz elaborates, saying, “Overpaying for raw material is a contagious, infectious disease. The old adage of ‘Make it up in volume’ is just as false today as it was then.” He concludes, “One has to be smart when buying. One needs smart buyers when buying. Anyone can buy if they overpay.”

iv. thou shalt not neglect good people.

When a downturn hits and then lingers, it becomes exceedingly difficult for a company manager to avoid painful personnel decisions. The negative impacts are clear to the employees being laid off or terminated and can be nearly as traumatic for the managers who have to make and communicate these decisions to their employees.

More subtle but of great importance in the long term is the risk to a company’s future when employees who are critical to the workplace knowledge base, culture, morale and future productivity gains of a company are among those who are terminated or leave the company after a payroll cut.

When asked about cost cuts to avoid during difficult times, Keith Highiet of Modesto Junk Co., Modesto, California, says, “Neglecting equipment or losing good people are not options. There are other expenses that can be cut first.”

A recycling company that wishes to retain its key employees through a downturn may need to turn to reduced hours as a cost-cutting technique. “Reduced hours and having good supervision are the keys,” Lipsitz says.

Safran says, “I have never laid anybody off [because of business conditions], maybe because we’ve been lean and mean. The workers help me make money in the good times, and I look at it that I have to take care of them in the bad times. We may need to cut back on hours, but if you have good people, and you spend money training them, you look at what you have to do to keep key employees.”

Lewon says good communication prevents workers from either being blindsided by bad news or from failing to understand the seriousness of a market downturn. “Explain to your people exactly what is going on so that they are aware,” he comments.

Even with the best management practices, “I think that choices have to be made,” Lewon says, when it comes to adjusting personnel levels to meet market realities. “Don’t be afraid to let marginal employees go. Tell the good employees that you want to keep them and that you will work with them to help them make it.”

v. continue to invest in quality.

When scrap prices are low and volumes have slowed to a trickle, it is likely that cash flow conditions will be on the tight side of the spectrum as well. A combination of tight cash flow and a commitment to avoid burdensome debt would seem to make a downturn an unlikely time to invest in operations improvements. However, veteran recyclers warn that neglecting one’s equipment for any consi

derable amount of time is likely to yield negative results. Retaining a high level of quality in operations starts with equipment maintenance, recyclers seemed to unanimously agree. (See the sidebar “Always Maintain”)

Beyond that important rule, veteran recyclers also say a market slump can provide managers with available time to research new equipment, adding that they often encounter equipment makers eager to make a sale during a lull.

“Historically, it has proven to be true that lulls in business are great times to make changes: equipmentwise, efficiencywise and even just a change in business direction,” says Highiet.

“Often, equipment salespeople are willing to deal in order to make sales in tough times,” Lewon says. “For anyone with cash and a long-term view, sometimes difficult times can be a great time to buy equipment.”

Kevin Gershowitz, who has encountered the same circumstance, says, “Better deals can be had on certain equipment from those sellers in need of making sales.”

Yet more critical than saving a few dollars, he says, is preparing to be competitive in the long run. “More important than the savings on the investment is the ability to be ready to go when the markets recover,” he states.

Kevin Gershowitz also points to the importance of keeping in mind the extended research, purchase and installation timeline for such a project.

“The workers help me make money in the good times, and I look at it that I have to take care of them in the bad times.” – Steven Safran, Safran Metals

“On some scrap processing equipment, from investigation to contract to install, it can take over a year for new processing equipment to become operational. Installing now and being in the game when the market recovers is better than beginning to install when the market recovers and then begin operating when the market tanks again,” he comments.

The first quarter of 2016 has provided financial press headlines pertaining in particular to China’s economy and the woes of the global steel industry that may well help to prolong the difficulties in the commodities sector.

Recycling industry veterans are far from complacent, but they do profess a certain amount of faith that abiding by time-tested management principles will help make the slump bearable.

“This downturn is having real consequences,” Highiet says. However, he adds, “The ability and wherewithal to weather prior [slumps], from controlling costs to accepting smaller profit margins with reduced flows of scrap, are helpful to rely upon in the current environment.”

Kevin Gershowitz says, “The fixed costs of operating a scrap yard are real and very expensive. The percent of gross margin needed to cover costs increases as market pricing lowers. When pricing is high, margins are wide and just about any company or individual can generate profits. Low pricing is a different business skill set. As market pricing lowers, margins get squeezed and do not expand. This explains many of the closures we read about.”

Cozzi returns to the idea of veteran leadership as making a difference for some scrap companies. “I believe that people in the industry prior to 2000 do have an advantage over people who are more recent to the business. They have lived through the cycles of the commodities market and of the economy,” he states.

Whether the rest of 2016 brings with it low prices or rising prices, employees of scrap companies with veteran leaders are likely to hear from them with variations of these five commandments and other lessons learned from previous experience.

Author: The author is editor of Recycling Today, Brian Taylor

Source: Recycling Today

Published by WIH Resource Group

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

More information on WIH Resource Group and its services can be found at www.wihrg.com.

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Are Food & Baby Squeeze Pouches Recyclable?


You’re probably seeing plastic pouches everywhere in the grocery store, especially in the baby food aisle. Portable, squeezable, and spill-resistant, baby food pouches have been a huge hit with parents and kids. Aside from robust sales, companies like them because they protect the food inside very well and they’re versatile, able to hold many types of food.

They are also much lighter than the glass jars that are still standard for baby food. The CEO of Plum Organics, which produces a super popular line of baby food pouches, estimated that nine times more fuel is needed to ship glass containers compared to the pouches, and compared to glass, the pouches occupy just 1/14 the amount of space in a landfill. It sounds like the pouches are a sustainable packaging option, but that last point — that pouches occupy space in a landfill — is an important point.

MORE: Sili Squeeze reusable food pouches

Millions of these pouches are being sold, and millions of them are ending up in landfills.

Pouches, like the ones often seen holding baby food, coffee beans, and snacks, typically consist of layers of different materials laminated together. Materials could include polyester, aluminum foil, polyethylene, Mylar, paperboard, and more, plus spouts, caps, or zipping mechanisms of various plastics. Some of these materials are recyclable on their own, but they are fused together in the pouch and very difficult to separate, and therefore very difficult to recycle.

Curbside recycling programs don’t accept these laminated mixed-material pouches, and mail-in or drop-off programs are limited, being mostly available on a manufacturer-by-manufacture basis. Baby food pouches from Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, and GoGo squeeZ can be recycled through a free Terracycle mail-in program. Capri Sun and Honest Kids drink pouches also can be recycled through a free Terracycle recycling program. Plum Organics pouches aren’t recyclable, but they’ve partnered with Preserve to recycle the caps.

The best way to avoid sending unrecyclable food pouches to the landfill is to invest in a reusable pouch, like the BPA-free ones from Squooshi. Like reusable containers that hold your lunch, reusable pouches provide convenience and closely resemble the disposable ones, with the added benefit of being used over and over again, saving you money and preventing waste.

Published by: WIH Resource Group, Inc.

SOURCES
Packaging World, Freedonia, RecycleBank

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Bob Wallace, MBA is the Founder and a Principal of WIH Resource Group, Inc. and has over 27 years of experience in waste and recycling collections programs management, transportation / logistics operations, alternative fuels (CNG, LPG, RNG, LNG & biodiesel), Fleet Management, Operational Performance Assessments (OPAs), Waste-by-Rail programs, recycling / solid waste operations, transfer stations, landfills, planning and development. Mr. Wallace has extensive experience in working with clients in both the private and public sectors. Prior to WIH Resource Group, Mr. Wallace served as the Director of Transportation & Logistics for Waste Management, the largest provider of waste management and recycling services in North America. He can be reached at bwallace@wihresourcegroup.com or 480.241.9994. For more information visit http://www.wihrg.com

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WIH Resource Group’s experience includes the oversight of operations, maintenance, finance, human resources, business development, sales, safety and environmental compliance while maintaining responsibility for multi-million dollar publicly and privately held assets including: a variety of collection operations, Sub-title D and hazardous and Class II landfills, transfer stations, intermodal facilities, recycling centers, buyback centers, material recovery facilities, vehicle and container maintenance operations, call centers and payment processing operations.

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