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Talkin' Trash

Installing trash compactors and cardboard balers can cut waste-removal costs and bolster recycling efforts.

When it comes to garbage, many people fill up their standard bins and pay their trash-hauling bills without considering the alternatives. And waste-hauling companies aren't rushing to tell their customers how they can reduce their trash bills. Besides, those unsightly open-top bins sitting out in back of most campuses seem to have been a permanent fixture since the beginning of time. For these reasons, trash management is an often-overlooked expenditure when M&O department heads look to reduce operating costs.

The reality is that schools generate enormous amounts of trash. This includes cardboard, paper and huge amounts of food waste. And open-top trash bins create a headache for the maintenance and operations crew. Bad odors from cafeteria waste are unpleasant for employees and students. Discarded garbage attracts rodents, bees and flies. Neighbors and employees who bring their household garbage to unsecured school garbage bins exacerbate the problem.

For many campuses, these trash problems are accepted as inevitable. Moreover, some assume that trash costs will be constant. But one way to cut a school's trash bill dramatically is to reduce the number of times a waste hauler visits the campus. Simply put, garbage companies are trucking companies. They make their money charging for the number of trips they make — the more trips they make, the more money they can charge.

Squeezing costs

Installing trash compactors on school campuses can help reduce the number of garbage hauling trips. When trash is compacted, a waste hauler needs fewer trips to collect it. On average, using a compactor reduces a garbage bill by about 50 percent. In addition, installing a sealed compactor will remedy many of the problems encountered with loose garbage. The trash is cleaner, has less odor and always fits inside the container.

A trash compactor often is just the first step. In many cases, campuses also benefit from using cardboard balers. Balers provide a dual benefit — they help eliminate cardboard from a school's waste stream (typically cardboard makes up more than 25 percent of the trash generated), and they add profit to the bottom line. Cardboard often can be resold to recyclers or haulers, so installing a baler can produce revenue year after year. And it stands to reason that removing this cardboard reduces a garbage bill by about 25 percent — and that's without taking advantage of possible recycling rebates.

Within a relatively short time, compactors and balers pay for themselves. When a school or district buys them outright, the return on investment is about 30 months. That's not bad when you consider that the economic life of the average self-contained compactor in a wet-waste application is eight to 12 years. Moreover, leasing programs allow schools to reap the benefits of compacted trash and cardboard without any upfront money for equipment or onsite improvements. The savings in garbage bills each month more than covers the equipment and site-improvement costs.

Crunching the numbers

However, not all schools are good candidates for trash compactors or balers. Chances are, schools in areas with a lot of competition among waste haulers just don't have garbage bills high enough to justify the equipment expense. Schools serviced by franchise haulers, on the other hand, are a different story.

A good rule of thumb is that any school site that is spending more than $1,500 per month in garbage bills is a candidate for a waste-stream analysis. This is a simple survey that assesses a campus' trash bills and typical waste generated to determine the best equipment for that specific facility.

In areas serviced by just one or two garbage companies, the following illustration is typical. If a campus is spending $1,500 per month in trash bills, installing a single compactor will usually reduce that bill to around $750. If that campus institutes an aggressive recycling program and its custodians remove the cardboard from the waste stream, then use a compactor to compress the remaining waste, garbage bills are reduced to around $562.50. If the custodians place the cardboard waste in a baler, the school also can take advantage of rebates offered by recyclers and haulers. In fact, unlike garbage removal, where there often is only one supplier in an area, schools can shop for the best rebate pricing available and get the highest dollar on the market for the cardboard they generate.

In this illustration, a school has purchased the equipment outright so its return on investment for the compactor/baler combination is around 30 months. Campuses that can't purchase the equipment still can rent a compactor and see an immediate 25 percent reduction in their trash bills even after rental fees. With a compactor/baler combination, after deducting the monthly service fee for the equipment then adding in the cardboard rebate, savings are often 30 percent or more.

Another cost-saving method is to share equipment. While sharing a compactor generally may not always be practical, many school districts do share cardboard balers among campuses. Often, a baler is installed at a convenient central location and custodians periodically drop off cardboard.

Choices, choices

School administrators must be especially careful when deciding which models of compactors and balers to acquire. Considerations include size, configuration, aesthetics and safety features.

Two types of trash compactors are ideal for use on school campuses. The first is a 20- to 30-yard capacity, self-contained compactor. These units are transported by a roll-off garbage truck to the landfill or transfer station when they are ready to be emptied. Since they are sealed fully, they safely hold the high volumes of wet waste schools generate. The second type is a 2- to 4-yard vertical compactor. Also self-contained, vertical compactors are emptied directly into a front- or rear-load garbage truck. Vertical units are ideal for campuses that have limited space.

Here are critical features to look for on trash compactors:

  • Enclosed hoppers with safety interlocks.

  • Key operation.

  • Good access for garbage hauler.

  • Matches local garbage truck configurations.

Other options available include odor-control units and trash container fullness monitors.

The ideal cardboard baler for school installation is a 60- to 72-inch-wide unit with a 10-horsepower motor that generates bales between 900 and 1,200-pounds. Essential features include safety interlocks on doors and key operation.

Sidebar: Looking for solutions

In 1996, Eureka Union School District in Placer County, Calif., found itself — like many other districts — trying to reduce costs drastically to avoid cuts to teaching staff, support staff or supplies. The district was able to conserve funds by revamping its trash removal.

“We had initially installed seven-yard open-top trash bins at all of our campuses and were using a local garbage company for trash pickup,” says Beverly Wilkinson, assistant superintendent of business services. “Our costs just kept escalating.”

At the time, Eureka Union consisted of five campuses. Each campus needed two trash hauls per week. In addition, the district's two junior high schools featured snack bars and, consequently, had bee problems associated with their bins.

Wilkinson installed rented trash compactors on each of the campuses, reducing trash hauling by half and easing the bee problem. Soon thereafter, she hired a company outside Placer County to handle the district's garbage hauling.

“At the time we figured making these relatively simple changes cut our costs in half,” says Wilkinson. “Changing the way we managed our garbage has really helped us.”

Eureka Union's first five campuses needed to be retrofitted with concrete pads and electrical outlets in order to install the compactors. However, as the district grew to nine campuses, Wilkinson had these improvements designed into initial campus plans. In fact, each of the newer four schools now is equipped with a compactor in a location that has been designed specifically for easy garbage truck access. Over time, the district purchased the compactors outright. The units are on a preventive-maintenance service agreement and have been almost trouble-free.

A conservative estimate on compactor installations and use in Placer County schools over the past 6½ years puts savings at around $2 million.

Hawkyard is the owner of Compact-It, Inc., Roseville, Calif. The company seeks to help reduce garbage removal costs and improve recycling efforts. The company worked on the Eureka Union project (see sidebar).

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