Software streamlines solid waste department
The Streets and Sanitation Department in Grand Rapids, Mich., is responsible for curbside garbage pickup at 40,000 residential units per week and typically runs 15 routes per day. The department also began curbside pickup of recyclables last month.
Trying to optimize efficiency in the collection of solid waste has been a big challenge, according to Todd Tofferi, a planning aide for the department. Residents who participate in the collection program purchase bags (10 for $10) or tags ($1 apiece) that they attach to their own bags, but some residents – particularly those residing in multi-family homes – do not participate every week. Because of that system, the numbers and locations of pickup points on different streets can fluctuate.
Uneven population growth in different sections of the city also has posed a problem. “The routes had not been changed in 20 years,” Tofferi says. Consequently, some workers finished up their daily routes much too early if they covered sections of town that had lost population, while others, who covered growing neighborhoods, often had too much work to do.
To improve its collection efficiency, the city purchased software from RouteSmart Technologies, Columbia, Md. But, before the software program could be put into use, city workers needed to follow behind refuse collection trucks, painstakingly recording each and every pickup address and entering the data into the department’s computer. That process took three months because of high turnover and unreliable employees among the temporary help hired by the city to perform the task, Tofferi says.
The new software automatically plots collection stops and route information to computerized street maps based on the address location of each customer. The system also will enhance data analysis by graphing collection stop data and mileage for each route.
“It will save time by laying out a more logical groundwork with the least amount of backtracking,” Tofferi says. He says the city plans to integrate the routing software with ArcView GIS software from ESRI, Redlands, Calif.
Some long-time drivers have resisted the new technology, but Tofferi believes that will change as the department fine-tunes the software and database. Although the department has not determined whether there is a cost savings so far, Tofferi says the software has equalized the routes, allowed the city to eliminate two routes and freed up at least two people for the recycling program, thus avoiding the need for new hires.
The recycling program, which also will be handled by the new software, involves curbside pickup from 10,000 residents every two weeks. Residents pay $24 per year for the service and are supplied with an 18-gallon, plastic bin from the city when they sign up.
After the first year, they pay $24 annually to receive a renewal sticker to affix to the bin. The program accepts a variety of materials, including newspapers, magazines and white paper, cardboard, plastics, clear glass, aluminum, tin, metal, aerosol cans and household batteries. The city drops its recyclables off at the Kent County recycling facility at no charge, and the county then processes and sells the recyclables.