Lavallette officials, keen to make public works collections more efficient while solving the age-old issue of sea gulls sullying the streets, heard a pitch Monday night from IPL Global, the manufacturer of so-called “robo-cans” that allow for automated garbage pickups.
Lavallette, if it were to move forward with a conversion plan, would not likely move to a fully automated system like its larger neighbors Brick and Toms River. While the cans would look the same (and could be used in the future with an automated system), the borough’s expected choice would be what is known as a “tipper” system. In this hybrid approach, traditional garbage trucks are fitted with an automated module that lifts cans and empties them into the truck, but a collector must wheel the can from the curb to the back instead of a robotic “arm” grasping the can from afar. This system is thought to be more appropriate for Lavallette since on-street parking is common during the summer.
The automated cans come in three sizes: the traditional 95-gallon cans most commonly seen in other municipalities, and smaller 64-gallon and 32-gallon models that are also compatible with the system. In some communities, such as Brick Township, the smaller cans are distributed to senior communities whose residents prefer them. Lavallette officials could choose to give residents a choice, or distribute one model to each home. Households would receive one can from the borough, and could purchase more if needed. The 95-gallon cans cost $52 each and the smaller ones proportionally less.
“If you have sea gull issues or rodent issues … these animals are smart – they leave,” said IPL representative Jack R. Lutes, who said he was a Sea Isle City resident and familiar with gull issues. “If you cut the food supply off, you cut the problems.”
Lutes said an automated system improves the efficiency of public works crews, and also cuts down significantly on injuries. Sanitation collection has become one of the nation’s most injury-prone jobs, he said, with the number one injury having emerged as needle-sticks from disposed hypodermics inside bags. The more traditional injuries are also minimized.
“It cuts down on needle sticks, back sprain, arm sprain and all of the other physical issues,” Lutes said.
The cans themselves have the same footprint as a 32-gallon Rubbermaid “Brute” model can that is sold at most big box stores, but taller, and more secure. The cans are rated fro 332-pounds of contents, can withstand wind speeds of up to 49 m.p.h. from the front even while empty (43 m.p.h. winds from the sides) and the lids are likewise rated against 49 m.p.h. winds and come outfitted with small spaces that filter wind through the handles to prevent them from opening during storms.
The cans come with a 10-year warranty and expected life of 22 years, Lutes said.
“The Public Works employees would walk to the curb, hook it to the back, and that’s it,” Lutes said. “They physically do not have to pick it up and lift it to dump the contents.”
Interestingly, the cans are marked with serial numbers and contain electronic RFID tags inside that link them to their owners. If there is a mix-up in ownership, or if they are being used for a nefarious purpose, officials would have the ability to find out whose can they are dealing with.
Lavallette has already ordered new garbage trucks to replace its aging fleet, and is considering the tipper enhancement as an add-on. If the system were to be adopted, the “tipper-cans” would most likely be issued for garbage pickup only, while recycling pickup would continue to use traditional cans. The borough could decide later to add another tipper and distribute another set of (differently-colored) cans for recycling use.
“Garbage is the biggest problem with the sea gulls and raccoons,” said Councilman David Finter. “Recycling has not been much of an issue. It will keep the garbage out of the sewers. If you look, you’ll find garbage in the sewers all the time. That goes out to the bay. We’re talking a lot about saving the whales – this helps.”
A few residents pushed back on the proposal, arguing the cans were too large or would have to be dragged through stones. Lutes, however, showed the bottom footprint of the can, its size, and three drag-strips that are moulded into each can. The can’s 10-inch wheels – supported by a metal bar – are easier to roll through a stone area, he said, as compared to a traditional can.
Officials acknowledged a switch to automated cans would not solve every problem in the borough when it comes to trash pickup. There will always be a large number of homeowners who leave on Sunday night and will not return until the following weekend, and there will always be Fourth of July parties that produce extra refuse. But, Mayor Walter LaCicero said, residents themselves can be part of the solution by bringing trash to the recycling center – as they can do now – if they have too much, and they can always purchase an extra can if they need to do so.
Ultimately, the cleanliness factor has emerged as the most significant for both officials and residents. Plastic bags would be banned from being placed on the street for collection, as even the sturdier “contractor bags” have proven to be penetrable by gulls, who then proceed to spread garbage throughout an entire block. Some people spoke of everything from dirty diapers to food waste being found near the curb and inside the sewers after a “sea gull incident.”
“This has been an ongoing problem not only for residents, but for businesses,” said Mark Speaker, who for years led the Lavallette Business Association. “It’s not a one-size-fits all answer. We’re going to have to tweak things. All in all, this solves the multitude of situations in town. It’s a start – and it’s not rocket science.”
“I think the cans, in and of themselves, are a good idea,” said Councilman Michael Stogdill, who said his questions revolve around the tippers themselves, which are not sold by the same companies that manufacture the cans.
Lavallette has about 2,600 “taxable units,” meaning the program would cost about $135,000 to implement if each resident was issued one 95-gallon can. The tippers would be funded through a future capital budget, as planned when the trucks themselves were ordered last year.
“It’s used in every other town in our area successfully,” said Speaker. “People have habits, and we need to break some of those habits, quite honestly.”