Archive for Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New trash trucks seen as recycling boon

Randy Weldon, of Weldon Enterprises, picks up trash in Eudora with an automated trash truck. Students at Kansas University say such trucks could ease curbside recycling, but a Lawrence official says they're not the best choice for the city.

Randy Weldon, of Weldon Enterprises, picks up trash in Eudora with an automated trash truck. Students at Kansas University say such trucks could ease curbside recycling, but a Lawrence official says they're not the best choice for the city.

May 20, 2008


Trash Truck Demo

See how a fully-automated trash truck works in Eudora. Enlarge video

Curbside costs

Bob Yoos, Lawrence's solid waste superintendent, estimates that it would cost about $5 million to create a once-per-week curbside recycling service.

About $1.75 million of the cost is for a recycling center where Lawrence workers would sort and prepare the recycled materials for sale. Yoos said he believes it isn't feasible - especially with rising fuel costs - to transport the material to an existing recycling center in Kansas City that is used by several other communities in the metro area.

In Randy Weldon's world, three fingers are now doing the work of two men.

Weldon these days spends his time with one hand on a steering wheel and his other on a video game-like controller. No, he's not playing a game, but some days it surely seems like it compared to what he used to do. He used to spend hour after hour hanging on to the back of a trash truck, waiting to clean-and-jerk somebody's filthy garbage can.

But now Weldon says he's working smarter, not harder. He pushes a few buttons and a robotic arm extends from his $250,000 rig and snatches a special plastic trash container. The arm does all the heavy lifting, swinging the 95-gallon bin over the top of the truck and then returning it to the curb.

About eight seconds have passed from start to finish, and Weldon is ready to go and grab once again. And the best part is that Weldon doesn't have to wait on two co-workers to jump onto the back of the truck. He's now a one-man crew.

"There are a lot of times it has cut an hour to an hour and half off my day," Weldon said. "Automated is faster. There is no way around that."

Technology and trash have collided.

But it is not happening on a high-tech frontier or even in one of the larger cities you may expect. Weldon picks up trash in Eudora, and in the process has provided the town of about 6,000 people with one of the more advanced trash collection systems in the Kansas City metro area.

"It is a trend that is definitely coming," said Weldon, who is a vice president of Eudora-based Weldon Enterprises. "This is how they've been collecting trash on the coasts for years."

A Lawrence look

But it is not how they collect trash in Lawrence. Here, nearly all of the city's 21 trash trucks are staffed by a three-person crew that hangs and heaves.

A group of Kansas University students, though, is urging city leaders to convert the city's fleet to an automated model. The students - a mix of graduate and undergraduate students in a designing business services and consumer experience class - believe the conversion could be the key to the city adding curbside recycling service.

City leaders long have been asked about creating a once-per-week curbside recycling program, but staff members have balked at the cost. The most current estimate is that a once-per-week service would add $12 a month to every household's bill, whether residents used the service or not.

But Ryan Hembree, a graduate student in the KU class, said he's not convinced the city has looked broadly enough at the issue.

"We're saying that we understand curbside recycling is a huge cost, but perhaps you can make some changes to your operation and save enough money that it evens out," Hembree said. "We don't think there has to be a huge cost increase."

'Boots on the ground'

Bob Yoos, solid waste superintendent for the city, wishes there was a magic truck that could make everybody's desire for cheap, curbside recycling come true. But he's not convinced.

That's in part because Yoos knows Lawrence is a tough city to tame when it comes to picking up trash. Yoos said university towns are challenging places because there are multiple times of the year - namely move-in and move-out days - when students produce piles of trash.

"An automated truck is not going to work for that," Yoos said. "You need manpower and boots on the ground."

Yoos also said the fact that Lawrence has large amounts of trash collection that occurs in alleys - where space is tight - makes the use of automated trucks problematic. He said that also holds true for the many neighborhoods where on-street parking is the only option.

"I really feel like we would be limited in the areas that we could use those types of trucks," Yoos said.

Start-up costs also would be significant. Weldon said the automated truck costs about $100,000 more than a traditional trash truck. Maintenance costs also are higher, he said. Providing residents with the special plastic containers also can cost anywhere from $40 to $80 per household, industry representatives said. And in Eudora, the new system did bring the first rate increase in three years. Trash rates increased from $9.60 per month to $13.

Green friendly

Weldon, though, is convinced the system is the best fit for a changing future. Since starting the system in Eudora last fall, he's also implemented it in De Soto. His brother's company also started operating an automated truck in Tonganoxie in January.

Weldon already knows the system saves time. Eventually, he thinks it will save money in terms of worker's compensation insurance and fuel.

But Weldon thinks the biggest reason more communities will switch to the system is an increased emphasis on being environmentally friendly.

That's because the new system requires residents to fit all their trash into a single 95-gallon container, or else pay $3 extra per month for an additional trash container.

"You have people calling you to ask what they can do with this extra trash, and that gives you the opportunity to explain the benefits of recycling," Weldon said. "I feel like that is the direction we have to go because we know the landfill is not going to be here forever."


igby 9 years, 11 months ago

Dig another hole in the ground and kick these green freaks in the head because my water bills is already twice the cost of my electric bill.

Cynthia Schott 9 years, 11 months ago

Doesn't anyone in Lawrence use trash bags? How does it handle things that are not identical blue trash cans? How about small boxes? I can't celebrate something that takes jobs away...

KsTwister 9 years, 11 months ago

Heck, give me the Eudora rates! Less manpower needed should account for something too. Then again, we could buy more land and fill it up for future generations to build on. Too bad LJW couldn't do a cost comparison. Maybe they can't come to think of it.

TongieMom 9 years, 11 months ago

We have this new service in Tonganoxie. I don't mind having the 95 gal container. It does NOT fit well in the garage as it is bulky....and all those bright blue trash cans look horrific in front of the houses. It's not difficult to put it out the correct way so I don't see the complaint there. Yard waste will be taken as long as it's in approved brown bags.We recycle and it's a rare that we have more trash than will fit in the container. I have gotten a little 'nasty' tag about keeping the lid closed ( was BARELY popped open). That being said...we have BULK pick up once a month, but they don't take ALL large items. Mostly just appliances and furniture. This is done with a good old school style trash truck so why not allow an extra BOX of misc. stuff during that one pick up every month. We have the exact same trash service (Honey Creek) as the county and they can put out whatever they want and it gets or out of the container.Community recycling bins have been overflowing, so clearly it's making a difference and causing people to think about what they toss in trash.

been_there 9 years, 11 months ago

The suggestion that trash only be picked up every other week is not going to fly. Can you imagine the smell. New comers probably don't know that it was not that long ago we had the trash picked up twice a week. They dropped it to once a week for the same amount of money. Yes they added yard waste pick up but only for certain months. Tell me they did not come out ahead on that one.

butrflkisz 9 years, 11 months ago

I also live in Eudora and the trash cans took some getting use to but on windy days my trash cans aren't blowing all over my street. It picks it up and puts it back in the same spot I put it. There is never trash laying around just like everyone else said. They have wheels so its easy to place it on the curb so all in all it worked out pretty well.

busymom 9 years, 11 months ago

I agree Multi. These trucks won't help unemployment rates.

bigchops 9 years, 11 months ago

Those trash cans are a big pain. If you don't sit them the right way they will leave you a big green note telling you did it wrong. I don't know if they will start charging if you do it wrong everytime, I see it coming to make extra income. They will not pick up anything that is sitting outside of the can. Everything must go inside and the lid has to shut. They have 1 big trash pick up a month but that doesn't mean you can sit trash bags on the side of the cans. That means for furniture pick up. I hope some of the other Eudorans will chime in on this.

bigchops 9 years, 11 months ago

I do agree that you should just place them the correct way but we all have had bad mornings and at the last minute you see the trash hasn't been taken out so you hurry before you head off to work and then you have had a bad day at work then you come home to something hanging off your trash cans and it says you need to place them so many inches away from the curb and so many inches apart of each other. It is just frustrating.I do like on windy days that the lids are not blowing everywhere. The day that I put out big trash that had boxes and a few odds and ends, my neighbor put out the same kind of things to, I watched him get out and pick and chose what was going into the truck. Just didn't make since. Just becareful when do that spring cleaning in the basement, make sure it goes into the big blue can.

Dan Edwards 9 years, 11 months ago

been_there: Read my post again. I proposed alternating collection of yard waste and recycling--not trash.Twice weekly trash pickup? What a ridiculous waste of resources that was.

cowboy 9 years, 11 months ago

Maybe Yoos ought to get out of the office once in a while. The city of Phoenix and Scottsdale Az started this same deal some 40 years ago. Seems now that half the operating costs for the trucks are picking up lawn waste. Cancel this program , if you want to collect grass clippings , set up a drop point and you can dump them yourself , see how fast those clippings start hitting the ground again instead of wasting all of our money being collected once per week. Labor and op costs just got cut in half and equipment life extended x 2.

fletch 9 years, 11 months ago

We've been using the same carts as Eudora down here in Dallas for a decade, and I've never run into a major problem. There was an initial spike in costs when the system was implemented, and some people complained about having old trash cans they couldn't use anymore (a local nonprofit actually took in thousands of them and turned them into tree planters), but over time costs shot way down, and the system is really slick now. One truck comes and picks up recycling and radios in which houses have compost bags (yard clipplings, food compost, branches, etc). A second truck follows about 15 minutes later and picks up the garbage cans. A third truck follows about a half hour later and grabs the compost bags, cleans up any bits of garbage that fell out, and pushes all the carts away from the alley or curb (you can even paint areas on your driveway you like them stored at and they'll push them all the way back there if you like). From the time I hear the first truck coming to to the time the last one leavse, it's usually less than an hour.Oh, and for the naysayers: I pay less in garage fees now than I did a decade agao, and I now I get recycling pickup, compost pickup, one free truckbed of compost mulch each year if I want it, and 5 free "large haul" pickups a year if I need to get rid of large furniture or old appliances. And as far as I know, nobody's been put out of work. We still have multiple people coming to pick up the garage (just in a streamlined fashion), and now we have multiple recycling centers that are staffed. So to recap: less cost over time, jobs created, eco-friendly, and better service. Yeah... sounds like a bad idea...

Buggie7 9 years, 11 months ago

I agree big chops Im in Eudora and bought 4 new on wheels trash cans when I moved here in Aug becuase the city told me too. Then a month later Im told that it was a waste of money to go and do so becuase they are going to have these new trash cans. They are obnoxious and there is writing on them stating that residents have to wash them out. If you have trash in them but the lid will not close then they wont pick it up. If you have bags of trash on the side they wont pick it up even on bulk trash pick up day. The solution for this by the City of Eudora when I called is that I must rent a second trash can from them for a fee on my city bill every month. I thought that was stupid cause when I have extra trash is times like holidays bday parties etc. So in order to keep from having my trash fill up in the garage I had to rent a second one which sits up here by the house most weeks because we dont use it. The bulkd trash pick up has also changed they wont pick up boxes or bags only furniture and appliances. The color on the trash cans are a bright terrible blue. why not make them green or something that blends well. Blue Harley, They are actually good at picking up any spilage if there is any. Like I stated above they wont empty them for you unless the hinged lid is completly closed so there is no spillage on the way up but occasionally Ill see the guy get out and pick up stuff. They are really neat and tidy about it they just pick up all the stuff they used to and if they dont pick up all the trash bags boxes etc and dispose of it then I dont see the big help with these automated trucks because now people are getting rebellious and leaving their stuff at the end of the drive way until the city picks them up. Then they dont pick it up and it ends up all over the neighborhoods.

Bobo Fleming 9 years, 11 months ago

I live in Eudora. I have two trash cans and the extra 3 bucks is no big deal. So far it works great, there is nothing left on the ground. They will pick up the barrels if the lid isnt completly down and for once we have something that Lawrence doesnt have. Im sure the County Commission will look at our trash collection, say it doesnt do anything for Lawrence, and outlaw it.

WHY 9 years, 11 months ago

"three fingers are now doing the work of two men." HAHAAA

Richard Heckler 9 years, 11 months ago

This KU group offered a variety of ideas which were not printed in the paper. Perhaps Chad should offer a story covering the entire presentation. The whole concept was to bring city wide recycling on board accompanied with money saving measures in order NOT to increase rates. This truck idea is a good one. Trash people should not lose their jobs because they might be needed elsewhere in an expanded recycling operation.Reducing trips to the dump = less dump fees and gasoline use. Also there are three staff people riding to and from the dump apparently because that is the most efficient. Perhaps our current crew of local recyclers could be contracted out instead of cutting them out. Lots of areas to discuss. Perhaps a KCMO high tech sorting recycling operation could be contracted out to pick up Lawrence recyclables?

sissezz 9 years, 11 months ago

i agree with multi and busymom.... whats gonna happen to the famlies of the men who work the trash trucks? And frankly with two kids getting ready for college in the next year i don;t need ant extra bills. Start recycling centers in the tanger mall and both wal-marts.

Marcus DeMond 9 years, 11 months ago

My wife and I recycle evrything Wal-Mart accepts and we go there twice a month tops. I think the city should pick it up every other week and cut the cost in half to $6. If we recycle, trash volume will go down too.

Haiku_Cuckoo 9 years, 11 months ago

A pick up for yard waste is ridiculous. How many people take advantage of this on a weekly basis? ==========I do. I bag my grass clippings.

delta77 9 years, 11 months ago

The small suburb I'm from in Minnesota has had automated trash pickup and weekly "simple-sort" curbside recycling for 15+ years, provided by a private company (there is no city-run trash service). All recyclable materials can be mixed together in one bin, which is also picked up by automatic truck. Ace Solid Waste ( is the company that provides this service to dozens of cities and counties in MN. This is the model we should follow.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 11 months ago

Water Bills took a significant increase because of the new sewage treatment plant that will be built one day...or maybe not. This is a perfect example of why impact fees should become law. Most of us paying for that new plant will never be tied into it. Developers are creating a need for more crap treatment so let them pay for the sewage treatment plant by way of impact fees. The more developers create they more we all pay...that stinks.Commissioner knew a sales tax would never fly and property owners are tired of more than a 4% increase in property taxes each year so they authorized a fee increase from now until forever of 9%(tax increase) that the voting taxpayers has no means to say NO.

skinny 9 years, 11 months ago

Forget it, our trash service is fine the way it is! As a matter of fact maybe the City of Lawrence ought to start looking at how they are going to lower our water/trash/sewer run off bills now. They are one of the highest in the state! Ridiculous having to pay for water run off!

Tanetti 9 years, 11 months ago

The only thing I can add is that recycling goes a loooong way toward reducing your trash output. We weren't recycling when we lived in Eudora (for shame, I know! Wwe moved back to Lawrence just before the switch to the blue cans occurred), and our family of four used 3-4 large trash cans on any given week. But now that we recycle plastic, aluminum, paper and steel, we are down to not quite filling one large trash can (and it's smaller than one of the Eudora bins) each week, and that includes disposable diapers and dog waste from our yard. When we get started on a compost pile, it should go down even more.

Take_a_letter_Maria 9 years, 11 months ago

Haiku_Cuckoo (Anonymous) says: A pick up for yard waste is ridiculous. How many people take advantage of this on a weekly basis? ==========I do. I bag my grass clippings.------------------------------------------------------------------------I mulch when I get the chance to do so, but with plenty of kids activities happening in the evening I don't always get to it in time to mulch. On those occassions, I bag my clippings as well and use the weekly yard pick-up. Many of my neighbors use this service every week.I also take advantage of the compost give away that the city has every fall. That stuff is great for the flower beds and for filling low spots in the lawn.

gphawk89 9 years, 11 months ago

"Those trash cans are a big pain. If you don't sit them the right way they will leave you a big green note telling you did it wrong."Well, then, do it right. How hard is it to orient a trash can in the right position?"A pick up for yard waste is ridiculous. How many people take advantage of this on a weekly basis?"I do, as do most of my neighbors. Several bags every week. Grass clippings, garden waste, leaves, tree limbs, shrub clippings...

msdesign21 9 years, 11 months ago

I am one of the design students that worked on surveying the current trash system of Lawrence. There are many factors that were not published in this article that help shed light on the current state of the system. 1. The current tipping fee, to dump at Hamms Landfill, is approximately $20/ton, by far one of the cheapest fees in the nation. (Opposed to either the east or west coast which can pay on average over $70/ton) This is important because there has been little or no motivation/resources to allocate to an already cheap system. 2. Hamms is approximately 6 miles outside of the city of Lawrence. that link will show you where everyone in the state of Kansas is taking their trash, we clearly have the shortest trip of anyone. (another reason the current state is so cheap for us)3. Hamms Landfill is a quarry, the more rock they dig out the more landfill space they have. There is an approximate life expectancy of another 70 years, which to some people may mean, no need to worry we have plenty of space, but for most cities this is not the case. The landfill in KC has less than 10 years life left and then they will have to transport all of their trash to Hamms or somewhere else. This is a good example of how Eudora does not have the same situation as Lawrence. They most likely have higher tipping fees (which will increase the need for recycling by decreasing what is taken to the dump) and it costs them much more to transport to Hamms that it does for Lawrence. Anytime you compare any system to Lawrence it is not going to be "the same" and therefore is not a valid comparison.

Steve Jacob 9 years, 11 months ago

I remember a survey done by the KC Star saying Lawrence has a tough job, between students with more trash paying less taxes/fees and picking up all trash, including business dumpsters. They do a good job.$12 a month fee extra recycling? Cut that in half and it might be possible.

mistygreen 9 years, 11 months ago

We live in Eudora and have had no problems with the new trash pick up service. We are a family of 4 and rarely fill the can. As for spillage, I've never seen anything, with the exception of a few very windy days, and that was just a few pieces of paper. No big deal to pick it up. If I could only keep people from littering in my yard and keeping their pets from using my yard as their restroom, I'd be a happy camper!

salad 9 years, 11 months ago

This is a good idea, and a better way to collect trash. The complainers can't have it both ways: if jobs are cut it saves money. How many of you really want to throw trash for a living anyway? How many of you look forward to your children throwin' trash for a living? It's a dirty and dangerous job. Last year a trashman was almost killed by an impatient driver in my neighborhood (he was hit and the car broke his leg). It's hard on the back, and you never know what's in that trash. In NYC a trashman was killed when a metal container full of acid exploded in this face when they were compacting the trash. This is a much safer and better way to collect trash.We should also have pay as you go, so the guy who throws away an SUV sized mountain of trash pays plenty extra.

workinghard 9 years, 11 months ago

When the city replaced my short cart type trash container with the taller round one I had to call them up and tell them to bring back the short one. When they said they were phasing those out I said I wouldn't rent one anymore and to come pick it up. I explained to them the new ones were too tall and hard for me to swing the bag up into. When you get older there are just some things that are harder to do. It was also harder to get down the gravel drive. Needless to say the next day the short green one reappeared.

msdesign21 9 years, 11 months ago

  1. The city budgets approximately 55% of their 4 million dollar budget to paying workers salaries and benefits (including insurance for a high risk job) and approximately $400,000/year towards workers comp. Increasing automation decreases these numbers.5. Efficiency can be achieved at many different levels of trash collection especially with route planning and management. The city currently does NOT have any maps to visibly show what trucks are driving up and down what streets. A simple AND CHEAP GPS device could be used for just one week (preferably a month) to determine any redundancies or inefficiencies. A combination of many different technologies will have upfront costs but when used correctly can dramatically decrease other costs over time. 6. The argument of this being a college town with heavy pick-ups during move-in/move-out times, narrow alleyways, and cars parked along the street aren't enough reasons to not consider automated trash pickup. I believe if you were to take a map of the city and mark the areas that were accessible with automation you would find that it could be a large percent of pick up. These are isolated incidents that would not affect the long-term benefits of adopting a new system. 7. I could go on and on, but if you are still reading by this point I would be awfully surprised. The fact of the matter is Lawrence doesn't have a problem with their waste management system. It has been created and maintained with a very minimal budget when compared to most cities around the nation. Recycling is a viable option for larger populated areas where landfill space is running low, but only a "moral" issue for us here in Lawrence. If anyone ever tells you something can't be done without a cost increase they aren't looking at the bigger picture. There are many ways to evaluate the efficiency of a system should one choose to do so and this article chose to focus on only one small detail on a very large issue. To learn more about the project please visit: if you are really into this stuff I strongly recommend you check out: to see how big this issue really is!

Dan Edwards 9 years, 11 months ago

As much as I appreciate the flexibility we have now in Lawrence (not only can we put out as much trash as we want, we don't even need to put the bags and boxes in a trash can), I think perhaps a consumption-based price model is the way to go here. For one, it is logical that people who generate more trash should be responsible for paying more of the cost to dispose of it than people who don't generate much trash. But second (and more importantly) it would encourage people (myself included) to care more about what gets thrown away and what could be recycled, I know if it came down to sorting out recyclables or paying $3 extra per month for another can absolutely I would choose the former. Frankly, the weekly yard waste pickup is a bit much as well (and I do use it, mainly for branches that break off my crappy Silver Maple trees). What's wrong with picking up yard waste every odd Monday and curbside recycling every even Monday? So your bag of grass clippings or bundle of sticks sits around your garage or backyard an extra week--not a big deal.It seems to me there ought to be ways to compromise on the issues and get curbside recycling provided as a city service without a $12 increase to the bill.

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