Compactonomics – Part 1
By Neal Bolton
→ Landfill managers admit that compaction is still important. But the competitive nature of the business has forced managers to also focus on short-term paybacks …sometimes at the expense of compaction.
The garbage industry is dynamic. It’s moving fast, though not always in what many would consider to be a good direction. Take, for example, the concept of compaction. It’s a simple concept that can be applied in a practical fashion. Even my kids understand it. On Tuesday morning, as the last of the trash is put out for the garbage truck, they’ll sometimes say, “Hey, Dad, the can’s too full, can you come and push it down?” Though they might not know about Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, they understand the concept. Big feet, more weight equals greater compaction. Now, Newton might not have had landfill compactors in mind, but his law certainly applies to them.
There is, however, another law that affects many compactor-equipped landfills. It is the law of supply and demand. Here’s how it works: The competitive landfill market demands lower tipping fees, and you supply by cutting costs anywhere you can. This often means trading long-term gains in areas like waste compaction for short-term savings in cash flow. In other words, our industry is being forced to look at short-term savings at the expense of long-term benefits in compaction.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of information put forth regarding landfill compactors. In the early 1980s, compaction was straightforward and simple: Get a compactor and get better density. The goal was to get as much compaction (density) as possible.
Many landfill owners performed tests to try and measure how much compaction their machine(s) could produce. Tests were conducted to measure how compaction varies with type of waste, type of wheel, machine weight, and so on. Waste compaction became a science.
But this article is not about science. It’s not about ground pressure. It’s not a comparison of static loads versus dynamic loads. Nor is it a study of the molecular erosion that results when steel wheels hit garbage. We’re going to take a step back and simplify. We’re going back to basics—finding out why landfills buy compactors. Cutting to the quick, the question becomes. Why in the world do you have a compactor?
What makes a good landfill compactor? One would think the answer is as simple as the question: A good landfill compactor is one that compacts. And while compaction certainly is a major consideration, it’s not the only defining criterion for a good compactor. In fact, when it comes to compactors and compaction there are lots of other considerations.
Based on a recent thumbnail survey of landfills from across the country, those who buy and use landfill compactors are also looking at such issues as durability, service and support, and upfront and long-term costs. And, as a matter of fact, a machine’s ability to provide maximum density is not always first on the list. Here are some results from that survey. You might be surprised at what we found.
When asked to rank several criteria in regard to the purchase of their current compactor, 50% of those surveyed listed a machine’s ability to achieve maximum density as the most important issue. Surprisingly, 38% ranked machine/component “durability, life, and warranty” as their number-one consideration in selecting a compactor—more important than its ability to compact.
This finding should tell us something about where our industry is headed. It appears that many landfills are more concerned with stabilizing their expenses (in the short term) than on making the most of their airspace resource (in the long term). This is another piece of fallout from a competitive, dog-eat-dog business environment. And make no bones about it, this affects both private and municipal landfills.
When it comes to what’s important in regard to purchasing a compactor, long-term costs and the manufacturer’s reputation were the least important factors considered for purchasing a compactor.
Since it appears that a machine’s ability to provide maximum compaction is still the most important factor (though not by much), it’s interesting to hear where landfill decision-makers go for information regarding compaction and which machine works best.
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