By Susan C. Moeller / Senior Reporter
Photo by Susan C. MoellerThe Rutherford Borough Council may opt to replace garbage trucks like this one with an automated version that would use a robotic arm to sweep specially designed cans off the street and dump them in a waiting hopper. Doing so would reduce the number of laborers needed to get the trash off the street.
RUTHERFORD (Nov. 18, 2010) — For Rutherford, 2010 could be remembered as the year of the garbage overhaul.
The borough council decided earlier in the year to reduce its residential garbage pickup and eliminate commercial service altogether. Now, a proposal to purchase trucks with robotic arms to pick up and dump specially designed cans is on the table for the Borough of Trees.
It’s the second time this year that the council has considered an automated system. This time, Borough Administrator Corey Gallo and Department of Public Works Superintendent Christopher Seidler are promoting the plan, which would greatly reduce the number of laborers needed to get trash off the streets.
And, the laborers assigned to the department would not be doing heavy lifting of cans, saving the borough $200,000 per year on workman’s compensation costs alone, Gallo said in an interview after the meeting.
The DPW, where manpower has been reduced by retirements and layoffs, could also be reorganized, with the remaining employees given new responsibilities.
“We have other needs,” Gallo said, citing the shade tree department as one understaffed area of responsibility.
Both Gallo and Seidler were impressed by the automated garbage pickup system being used in the Township of Edison, where one man driving one truck is handling garbage pickup for 1,250 homes a day, Gallo said.
“It’s impressive,” he concluded.
“I think it’s the answer,” Seidler added. “I think it’s the future.”
Gallo would like for the council to consider the cost of automated garbage pickup in its capital budget for this year.
In addition to cutting labor costs now, using automation would also be cheaper for the borough than privatizing garbage pickup, according to Gallo.
The initial cost to Rutherford to get started with automation would vary according to how much equipment was purchased. At the least, the borough would need one automated truck, and enough pails to give one to every residence. The pails are designed to hold 300 pounds of waste and are equipped with special seals to keep odors in and water and maggots out.
It would cost approximately $1.5 million to get started, Gallo said.
If the borough borrowed the money with a five-year bond, payments would total $300,000 annually, Gallo explained after the meeting. With cost factors for three employees, tipping and recycling fees factored in, the annual cost for the first five years of the automated program would be $1.5 million, Gallo estimated.
The automated system could also be expanded into other communities as a shared service, he noted.
For her part, Councilwoman Kimberly Birdsall is concerned about the financial investment represented by automation.
“I am not convinced that this is our only option,” she said after the meeting.
Mayor John Hipp was also not convinced. He said that he is willing to look at a comparative cost analysis, but based on the information presented to the council when it first considered automation earlier this year, Hipp was not sure that automation would save the same kind of money that privatization would.
Council President Joseph DeSalvo, who proposed automated pickup earlier this year, is still “100 percent” in favor of the proposal. Automation is better than outsourcing to a private company, according to DeSalvo, because it allows the borough to maintain control of its pickup schedule.
And, good prices initially offered by private haulers may not last, DeSalvo said after the meeting.
If a private company raised its rates after the borough sold its equipment, the cost to re-implement a municipal program would be too high.
If the borough automates its garbage pickup, DeSalvo is not in favor of laying off the laborers who do the work now. The DPW is already at its minimum staffing level, he added. To further reduce it would leave Rutherford shorthanded for other tasks, notably snow removal, DeSalvo added.
PLUS: To see a video of automated garbage pickup in action, click here.