Waste-hauling costs are increasing and recycling policies are becoming stricter. Apartment operators are seeing the effects and are taking a variety of steps to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In Part 4 of this 13-part, in-depth report, we examine the benefits of waste management brokers and trash compactor monitors.
Monitoring waste collections and hauler invoices provide a mixed bag of results.
The case for using a broker for contract negotiation and invoice monitoring is debatable, operators say.
Bell Partners’ Ashley Cook, who has been in the bidding process for the past five months, says his company is considering not using a third-party consulting firm and instead managing it themselves.
“With a third-party firm, they don’t own a truck and they have no infrastructure to do the work: So what are you getting by working with them?” Cook says. “What also concerns me is when I hear that some haulers are creating a separate customer service log for customers who use third-party firms and that those requests are being given a lower priority. Or even worse, that haulers opt to not answer those inquiries at all.”
Camden, with 162 communities in its national portfolio, has nearly completed bidding its contracts for the year, which typically are set for a 36-month term. Pippin says that many years ago, Camden used a centralized system for its waste hauling, thinking it would be more convenient. It wasn’t, he says, and in 2010, it chose to bid the business itself.
“We hired a broker to look at all of our bids and then to re-bid where we could save money,” Pippin says. “We saved money, but we found that our service quality cratered in some markets because the broker chose to use a mom-and-pop operator. I had 160 angry property managers calling me.”
Some operators use firms such as Enevo, which monitors its clients’ waste management contracts and earns a 40 percent commission based on what money it saves the apartment operator. Alpha Barnes hired Enevo in October.
Among the strategies Enevo suggested was for Alpha Barnes to place a digital device in the trash container that monitors trash levels and contacts the community if a pick-up is required. It also alerts the property if the contents in the container need to be shifted to create space for more contents (bulk or odd-shaped items waste space in the container), potentially saving the hauler a trip or avoiding fees if the bin does not meet a minimum pick-up tonnage level.
“Improved technology is enabling communities to better manage their containers,” Cook says. “No longer are we in a situation like one that I recall a few years ago when I visited a community in New Jersey. I asked the onsite team how it knew when its containers were full, and they told me they just grab a big stick and bang it against the side of the container. Depending on the sound, they’d know if it was full.”
Cook says standard compactor pressure gauges can’t always be trusted because an oddly shaped item might be clogging the container, he says.
“Sensor devices placed inside open-top containers take readings and send that data via cellular connection to a centralized hub. The readings are tracked and can help determine patterns of use and whether a container is at capacity. These new sensors can help management companies decrease the number of containers, or resize containers, hopefully reducing spend. In the future, that may allow for on-call pick-ups.
“For example, if a community has 10 trash containers throughout the property, the sensors could let the property know that one of them hardly ever fills. Management can ask itself: Do we really need that 10th container? Or, should it be relocated or removed? This can help reduce pick-up charges.”
Pippin says another quick, easy and inexpensive solution is to install gravity locks on the containers. “This way, the top-load containers cannot be opened until they are lifted up to be dumped into the hauler’s truck. This can prevent residents from placing out-sized items into the container. We ask our hauler to install these at no cost.”
Back to the Trash Talking in-depth report or read the part 5 story: What to Do with Bulk Items, Cardboard, Dumpster Maintenance.