From smartphones to smart TVs to the Palo Alto, California-based Tesla putting driverless cars on the road, technology is growing and advancing every year. For the waste and recycling industry, technological advancements are arriving just as frequently, especially when it comes to collection trucks and their operators.

The technology being deployed on collection trucks is helping to make routes more efficient and, most importantly, safer. This is thanks in part to telematics, which allows managers to see exactly where operators and their trucks are at a given moment, and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on collection carts that enable pay-as-you-throw programs.

For company and customer

Lakeshore Recycling Systems, headquartered in Morton Grove, Illinois, has a fleet of about 230 collection vehicles throughout the Chicagoland area. Front loaders, side loaders and roll-offs cover the area, collecting municipal and commercial waste and recyclables. Out of those 230 vehicles, roughly 10 use compressed natural gas (CNG).

John Larsen, vice president of operations at Lakeshore, says the company is starting initiatives using technology to ensure its customers are satisfied with their waste and recycling collections. One method being implemented in the Wheaton and Highland Park, Illinois, areas is a pay-as-you-throw program.

Lakeshore places RFID tags that house information such as service address and customer account number on its curbside collection bins, allowing the company to keep track of which households put bins at the curb and when.

“Residents only put out garbage and recycling when they have it, and if they don’t [have garbage], they don’t pay,” Larsen explains. “When they put it out, the trucks tip the can, read the can and get the address. From there, we formulate a bill that will be sent out.”

The billing system Lakeshore uses is paperless. The customer has an account from which the fee is automatically deducted. Customers can check their account balances using a web portal. Once the account balance hits a certain floor, such as $5, the customer is notified and can replenish it as needed.

“The identification tags are a great benefit to the resident,” Larsen says. “In the old method, the city negotiated a rate, and the resident would pay. For us, it was $15 per month. With [RFID], you’re only paying for what you put out there—if you’re a large family, you’ll pay more; but, if you recycle, you’ve created less material and save costs.”

Additionally, the technology is helping Lakeshore’s drivers become more aware of their surroundings and safer. With GPS systems in its vehicles, Larsen says managers have a “breadcrumb trail” for the collection fleet.

“We can tell the resident the driver hasn’t arrived yet and give a good estimate of when he’ll be there,” he says.

“All of this technology that we’re using and continue to use makes the job of our employees a safer one to do,” says Josh Larsen, vice president of operations at Lakeshore Recycling Systems. Photo: Lakeshore Recycling Systems

From a safety standpoint, Larsen says the technology used by Lakeshore doesn’t benefit only the customer but also the driver and the company.

The collection trucks have 360-degree cameras on their roofs that constantly film—like the cars used to collect data for Google Maps—around the vehicle.

“If there’s an incident, we can go back and look at the video and figure out exactly what happened,” Larsen says.

Fifteen out of the 21 front loaders Lakeshore uses are equipped with a fully automated Curroto-Can, manufactured by the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Environmental Solutions Group. The Curroto-Can features an arm attached to the front bucket of the truck that picks up the bin and empties the waste into the truck.

A benefit of this technology, Larsen says, is that it allows the hauler to collect containers by operating a joystick from his cab. “It’s much safer,” Larsen says.

Lakeshore also uses data collected from RFID tags in its competitive bids when dealing with municipalities.

“If you were a resident, I’d know how often you’re putting out garbage and recycling,” Larsen says. “When we bid on a community, we can make adjustments to the routing schedule based on the data we get because we’re able to tie the amount of routes we have with the set-out rates of the community.”

A helping hand

For Westborough, Massachusetts-based E.L. Harvey & Sons, technology on collection trucks is not yet a reality, but with new equipment coming within the year, Vice President B.J. Harvey says higher safety standards are on the horizon.

“We’ve had a lot of people here for a long time, and people can get content—go on cruise control when they’re out there doing their routes,” he says. “Any help we can give them will be extremely beneficial for us and for the guys to get home to their families.”

Harvey says the company is working on changing its back-office system, but it’s taking longer than anticipated because E.L. Harvey & Sons wanted to ensure it was using the best system. When the time comes, tablets and GPS systems will allow trucks to become paperless and will improve routing. What will come sooner, Harvey says, is the use of cameras in its trucks.

E.L. Harvey & Sons runs about 100 trucks per day. The fleet is made up of 40 roll-off routes, 40 residential routes and 20 front-load routes. It conducted a pilot program using cameras from Katy, Texas-based 3rd Eye in five roll-offs and seven residential and front-loading vehicles.

“The cameras will give our guys visibility,” Harvey says. “We have occasional dumb accidents happen—from backing up and hitting fixed objects or merging lanes—and some of that is guys just not paying attention or being distracted. Cameras will let the guys know they’re being watched.”

In terms of telematics, Harvey says he expects a learning curve for his drivers before they get used to the new equipment—at least until something happens when the technology proves to be useful.

“People see [the cameras] as the ‘Big Brother’—that I watch everything they do,” he says. “I assume there will be a pushback until there’s an incident or something that helps the drivers.”

While waste companies see advancements outside their industries, like driverless cars or robotic systems, as a way to replace laborers, Harvey thinks technology in the industry is going in the direction of helping, not replacing, staff.

“I think advancements will continue to flow to be automating things to help the drivers, not replace them,” he says. “For a basic trash truck, there isn’t a whole lot different between one that’s 18 years old and a new one except some of the bells and whistles that go into them.”

The author is assistant editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at hcrisan@gie.net. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2016 edition of Waste Today, a sister publication of Recycling Today.