Managing the collection and transfer of rural solid waste requires a lot of equipment, such as collection vehicles, carts, compactors, and transfer vehicles. Particularly demanding rural solid waste collection routes cause continuous wear and tear on collection vehicle fleets. Strategic maintenance can extend the useful life of collection equipment, but eventually, every community faces the costly and complex process of replacing essential collection vehicles.

Collection Vehicle Specifications
Solid waste collection vehicles have two major components: the chassis and the collection body. Both are specialized for the harsh environments where they operate. The chassis includes the vehicle frame, cab, drive train, and wheels. The collection body, either rear loader, side loader, or front-end loader, is mounted on the vehicle chassis and serves as the containment vessel for solid waste and recycling collection. Manufacturers usually offer chassis and collection bodies, but not always both. For this reason, solid waste collection vehicles are rarely purchased from stock inventory. One of the first decisions a community must make is whether it wants to automate or semi-automate collection fully and whether it prefers the front-, rear-, or side-loading vehicles.

Some communities may collect more than one type of waste stream with the same collection vehicle—that is, the vehicle collects residential solid waste some days and residential recycling on others. Depending on which type of loader the vehicle is, there may be additional equipment, such as hydraulic forks for lifting dumpsters or automated cart-tipper arms for emptying residential curbside collection carts. The first step in purchasing a new solid waste collection vehicle involves a thoughtful examination of the specialized needs of the community.

First, consider the use of the collection vehicle. Often, rural communities use one vehicle for multiple functions: collecting solid waste, recycling, and yard waste. If a community identifies specifications for these individual waste categories separately, the final vehicle unit might be notably different because of the customized collection purpose. However, when a community seeks to purchase a multi-use vehicle, it must consider all the various collection needs.

Understanding the environment in which the equipment will be functioning is critical. If the community has many unpaved, narrow, or rugged roadways, the space available for operating the equipment may be limited. Choosing a vehicle with a smaller chassis and collection body may be essential for day-to-day operation—but ensuring the equipment is durable enough to handle the terrain is vital.

Understanding the volume of solid waste that is being created, collected, and transferred for disposal will help you plan for the collection vehicle size you need. Factors such as how many route stops there are, how much waste you can collect in a day, and how many days you have available to complete the route will help determine the size of the collection body you need to purchase. Additionally, city managers often consider the impact of vehicles on the roadways.

Personnel Considerations
Most standard solid waste collection vehicles require a commercial driver’s license, also known as a CDL. However, some manufacturers offer compact trash trucks that fall below the weight requirements for a CDL license, which benefits rural communities that find it challenging to locate and hire qualified CDL drivers.

Many communities are trying to move to more automated collection vehicles. The benefits of automated trucks include fewer personnel obligations—for example, manual rear-loading trucks can require two to three operators, depending on the route size; one operator drives while one or two operators ride on the back to collect trash at each stop along the route. Automatic rear-, front-, or side-loading vehicles can reduce the number of operators to one and free up personnel for other much-needed public works functions.

Collection Vehicle Purchase Pricing and return on investment are often very high priorities for purchase decision-making. When it comes to solid waste collection vehicles, the adage about using the right tool for the job can make a big difference in the success of a solid waste management program. The considerations discussed above lead to the development of purchasing specifications. Most communities will follow a standard bidding process of developing an invitation to bid and accompanying specifications. Collection vehicle specifications can be written either separately for the chassis and collection body or combined. Based on the community’s prioritized needs, bids may incorporate many design variations into the specifications for a vehicle.

A man standing next to a truck
Many considerations must take place when a community is planning to procure a new solid waste collection vehicle

Beyond the vehicle specifications, an invitation to bid will need to contain additional sections of information, including timetables for procurement, such as bid announcement date, deadline to submit a bid, bid opening date, and date of expected contract award. Administrative details, such as identifying the purchasing office, restrictions on communications, clear and concise title for vendors to locate the opportunity, and any contractual terms and conditions.

Procurement rules vary from state to state, and a community should always reach out to its state procurement office or municipal league for guidance. There may also be additional funder requirements if state or federal grants or loans are used for the purchase. Funding Collection vehicle funding may come from various sources, including city revenues, loans, and local, state, or federal funds.

Many rural communities can access application assistance from organizations that provide technical assistance. Exploring these resources may ease the burden of complicated grant and loan application processes. State municipal leagues, local planning and development districts, or specialized community development organizations like the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) can provide more information about application assistance. Some communities consider solid waste collection vehicle purchases within their American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding expenditures. ARPA funds were set aside by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and designated for the relief of COVID-19 impacts on public health and economies. ARPA allocated more than $1 trillion of these funds for distribution to local municipal and county governments.

Organizations such as the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties have provided extensive information about ARPA funds and their distribution on their websites. Regardless of the funding source, many communities choose to conduct a comprehensive rate study before making a significant expenditure like a new collection vehicle.

Solid waste rate studies include an analysis of all revenues and expenses to the solid waste management program. Typically, they allow the community to see the impacts of rate adjustments on the annual budget and, conversely, help communities understand how a large financial purchase may necessitate a rate adjustment. Rate studies are typically provided by consulting engineers or community development organizations, such as the affiliates of RCAP. Managing a New Asset Adding a new asset, such as a solid waste collection vehicle, to your inventory may be less glamorous than selecting and purchasing the vehicle. However, managing and maintaining a new asset over the long term is a critical part of the process.

The first order of business for your new asset is acquiring the license, registration, and insurance with external agencies and internally adding your asset to your existing asset inventory. If you do not have an asset inventory, you should create one; the RCAP affiliates or other providers can help with that. Complete inventory updates and tagging before the operators use the vehicle. Inventory best management practices for solid waste collection vehicles may differ slightly from other asset inventories. One collection vehicle unit is composed of multiple components, including the chassis and collection body and often additional accessories, which are individually valued at a rate that merits inventory under many municipal policies. In addition to adding your new vehicle to inventory, thoughtful asset management planning can reduce the costly burden of maintaining and eventually replacing equipment such as collection vehicles, carts, compactors, and transfer vehicles for rural communities.

Asset management planning is a process that helps you keep track of the equipment you use at solid waste facilities, such as transfer stations, landfills, recycling centers, and collection programs. Accurate inventories and condition details will help you maintain the operations’ safety, security, and reliability. Keeping an accurate inventory of your solid waste facilities can help you comply with federal and state regulations, create accurate budgets, identify concerns early, and prepare for future needs, whether financial, growth-related, or regulatory. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your solid waste assets will help you intercept any sudden or unexpected problems you experience with operations or the quality of service you provide.

Understanding every detail of your system enables you to explain its current condition and how it operates and equips you to inform decision-makers, such as elected officials, customers, local health officials, and the media.

Michelle Viney

Michelle Viney

Communities Unlimited
Area Director Of Program Operations
Community Sustainability