Nanaimo looks at automated garbage trucks

NANAIMO – A proposed plan looks at the purchase of new automated garbage trucks and bins for an estimated $6.8M.

Mark Smith

Automated garbage trucks, trackable bins and in-house recycling – it’s all part of a $6.8-million plan to boost safety and service at the curbside.

Charlotte Davis, the city’s manager of sanitation, recycling and public works administration, pitched a plan to councillors Monday that would see Nanaimo’s manual 10-truck fleet swapped for eight new automated garbage trucks and 90,000 curbside bins over the next three years. The bins alone are estimated at $4 million.

Davis says one-man waste pickup is under pressure thanks to injured operators and the breakdowns of trucks. The city spent more than a million dollars on custom-built split-packer garbage trucks in 2011 and 2012 to handle kitchen waste, but the vehicles are experiencing mechanical problems and Davis doesn’t want to have to rely on or continue to spend money on other trucks that are two decades old.

There are also employee injuries, including 33 last year that cost the city $429,000. Switching to trucks with automated arms would improve safety for workers, as well as allow for higher productivity, wheeled bins and in-house recycling – a $660,000 annual cost, according to Davis, who also sees the potential to look at collecting yard waste.

But it also means higher user rates over a three-year rollout until equipment is purchased and recycling goes in-house.

In 2016, for example, automation would cost $111.19 – or close to $10 more than a manual system. Rates are anticipated to drop by 2018.

“A manual refuse collector is the sixth most dangerous job in North America right now, so if we could move away from that, that’s huge but then also the whole thing of the wheeled carts … makes it attractive for residents in general,” said Davis, who sees the potential to make people’s lives better.

Council hasn’t received a formal report from staff, but has been asked to consider the purchase of automated or automated-ready trucks. New vehicles are in the budget but if automated, costs would be added for bins. Politicians also have the option to wait for a core review.

Coun. Diane Brennan wants a report, but is supportive of automation and doesn’t believe council can hesitate given injury statistics.

She said it’s also attractive because the city can bring recycling in-house, which will mean reduced costs and greater control over how the service is offered.

Coun. Jerry Hong wants to see the justification for the trucks and public feedback, but questions if the city should contract out kitchen waste and garbage collection like it does recycling.

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