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Lowering waste disposal costs.

Over the past several years, solid waste disposal has become one of the hottest topics of discussion in practically every local real estate market. The politics associated with the shrinking availability of local landfills and increased costs associated with disposal of solid waste make this issue one all property managers will have to address in the very near future.

The purpose of this article, however, is not to discuss the root causes or the different types of solutions now being attempted in many municipalities. Instead it will discuss how one property solved its solid waste problem.

The property

Yarrow Bay Club Apartments in Kirkland, Washington, is located just east of Seattle across Lake Washington. The community was originally built in 1969.

Our firm was brought in to manage the property with the intent of increasing cash flow and occupancy so as to prepare the property for a major refinancing. During our start-up period, we found that disposal of solid waste was handled in somewhat of a unique manner.

The property has seven three-story buildings with common interior hallways and drive-under parking. Residents disposed of solid waste by using a common drop chute located in each building. The chute emptied into either a large roll-away container, which in turn was emptied three times a week by the franchised solid-waste disposal company.

An examination of the existing chutes found that they were in serious need of repair. Each chute was equipped with a self-closing fire door, which, in theory, closed off the bottom of the chute automatically if there was a fire in the dumpster below. The self-closing mechanisms were so old that replacement parts had become unavailable. Over the years repairs had been performed on the chutes that left doubts as to whether the system would actually function.

As a safety backup, in the top of each chute, there was a heat-activated water sprinkler line that discharged water into the chute if the automatic doors failed to operate.

Based on the condition of the existing fire doors, the age of the water lines, and the rust around the sprinklers' heads, it was obvious that repairs were needed to the system immediately.

An investigation into repairing the existing system indicated that it would be necessary to spend over $25,000 to bring the chutes and sprinklers up to current safety code. In addition, these repairs would not add to the overall operating efficiency of the community, in contrast to our stated goals and objectives.

Consequently, we began looking for alternative solutions to the solid waste disposal problems at Yarrow Bay.

Considering the options

Normally, adjustments to the efficiency of on-site solid waste disposal are made in the removal of the refuse from the property. The most common solutions are to modify the size of existing refuse containers, adjust the frequency of container pick-up, or install a completely different waste disposal system.

At Yarrow Bay, adjusting the size of existing containers or changing the frequency of container pick-up would not have resolved our problem. There were space limitations under the buildings that restricted our options of increasing container size. Nor would less frequent pick-ups solve the problem of the deteriorating garbage chutes.

After determining that none of these ideas would be effective, we began to explore new options.

Making the trash smaller

We decided that the best answer to reducing our overall waste volume was the installation of a garbage compactor.

A solid-waste compactor generally has two main components. The more complex is the compacting ram assembly, which does the actual work. It includes a hydraulic pump system, a hopper into which the garbage is placed, and a ram which does the actual compacting. The other main component is the container or box into which the ram of the compactor pushes the waste.

Sometimes the compactor and container are one unit, but in many cases the compactor is mounted to a concrete pad and the container is then attached by removable clamps to the compactor.

Containers can come in sizes ranging from 10 to 40 cubic yards. A container with an octagonal shape is often most efficient because it allows the trash to circulate during compaction, reducing dead space within the container.

Most large commercial compactors achieve a compacting ratio of at least six to one. This means that six cubic yards of household trash can be compressed into one cubic yard of container space. To determine if the container is full, a pressure gauge is mounted next to the operating switch. Depending on the manufacturer's specifications, when the pressure indicated on the gauge reaches a certain level, the box is full.

Advantages of compacting

Compactors offer several advantages over open-top-container service:

* Because the container is only removed when needed, the number of waste hauler trips to and from the property are significantly reduced. Open-top containers, on the other hand, are usually emptied on a specific schedule regardless of their fill level. Sometimes, however, the local health department may have specific requirement regarding the frequency of refuse removal, which you should determine as part of your analysis.

* A compactor station takes up less space than several open containers scattered throughout the community.

* By having the compactor in a central location, you restrict the damage to your parking lots. If containers are located in several areas, garbage trucks traversing the property create excessive wear to your streets and parking areas.

Even worse, you may be the third or fourth stop on the hauler's route, and the truck would be entering your property already loaded down. With a full load already in the truck and the forks lifting a heavily loaded container, you can create as much as eight tons of downward pressure on the front tires of a forklift container truck.

With a compactor, the hauler's truck arrives empty, loads only your container, takes it to the disposal site, and returns to the property with your empty container. The stress on your streets is minimized, and you only have to have one pick-up site.

* Having a single pick-up site also reduces the amount of loose garbage that "misses" the open containers throughout your property.

In addition, a well-designed compactor station makes it easy for a resident to drop off their garbage. Some of the larger open-top containers are so high that it is difficult for residents to heave their garbage over the top. That means that garbage lies on the street until one of your staff picks it up.

* Because you control the frequency of compactor pick-ups, you can empty the container prior to heavy trash-generating periods such as the Christmas holidays. This means that you will not experience the overflowing containers that are seen at many complexes after Santa arrives.

* Some compactors are so powerful they are able to handle the disposal of used furniture and other heavy items. Such items are generally excluded from open container service.

Selecting the site

The installation of a central compactor station promised the best chance of solving all the immediate problems at Yarrow Bay. While the local market had not installed a "resident use" central compactor, our experience in other markets indicated that the concept would be acceptable to residents if properly designed and installed.

To successfully conduct a central compactor installation, several key items need to be addressed. A location must be available on a site that is, in fact, central. To place the compactor away from the center of activity runs the risk of creating resident unrest. It is normally best to have the station near the primary entrance or exit, close to available power, and if possible, away from any buildings.

Three basic considerations should be addressed in selecting the final site.

* Residents should be able to walk up and drop off trash bags in a straight-forward manner. It is even better if they can dispose of their garbage on the way out of the community as part of their normal routine.

* Residents should not be exposed to any moving parts, electrical lines, or mechanical apparatus to get their garbage into the compactor. An ideal installation would be of an enclosure that surrounds the unit.

* Finally, the refuse hauler will need open and direct access to the container for pick up.

Construction considerations

Once the site is selected, you can address some of the features needed in the enclosure design. The station itself should be constructed to blend into the surrounding landscape and in an architectural style to create as little of a negative visual impression as possible.

The enclosure must have adequate drainage to handle rain, leakage, and washing run off. It is best if the entire access ramp and enclosure floor drain into the center of the enclosure. This ensures that any fluids draining out of the container do not flow into resident parking areas. It is also a good idea to have the drain made into a grated trap so that debris can be cleaned out of the trap.

When the container is removed, it is tilted up on one corner, putting a tremendous pressure on the floor. Thus, the floor of the enclosure will need to be at least six inches thick with a one-half-inch steel rebar laid in a grid pattern. The enclosure should be at least 10 feet wide to ensure access to the compactor when the container is installed.

To achieve the "drop off" feature of the station, you will need to address several problems inherent in most compactor designs.

The hopper in the compactor component usually loads from the top. It generally has a capacity of several cubic yards but also is between 48 and 60 inches from the ground. Its small hopper size and its high sides make it impractical for use without modification. Most installations solve this problem by having the compactor enclosure below grade or by building a ramp along one side.

Another potential problem is created by the small hopper size of the compactor. Consider adding a large "funnel" to the hopper of the compacting unit. This will not only help residents toss in garbage more accurately but will act as a temporary holding container until the compactor is cycled. Most funnels will increase the available holding area to at least 10 cubic yards of space.

The funnel hopper should be covered with a roof to prevent rain water from entering the hopper or damaging the compactor assembly. In addition, a roof helps disguise the true function of the enclosure.

Both power and water need to be available in the enclosure. the hydraulic motor in the system is quite powerful and sometimes has unique phase and voltage needs. Check with the manufacturer regarding what power is needed for your site so that you will be able to evaluate all related costs.

Water is needed primarily for cleaning. When the container is removed from the site, it is an excellent opportunity to scrub down and wash out the enclosure area. Having water nearby makes this job easier.

Operating the compactor

It is also necessary for a staffing plan to be developed on the functioning of the compactor. This plan should spell out which of the staff is responsible for operating the compactor, how frequently it will be emptied, how frequently it will be cleaned, what type of management-generated refuse can be placed in the compactor, and how the residents who resist using the compactor will be handled.

In our case, we trained all of our ground and maintenance employees to operate the compactor. Each employee was issued a key which activates the switch and was instructed to check the compactor whenever they pass by.

The operation of most compactors is very simple. Insert the key, and set the switch to single cycle. Press the start button, and observe the action of the ram. If necessary, operate the ram several times to clear the hopper. After the hopper has been cleared, turn the switch off with the key. If the pressure gauge reaches the specified full point during cycling, notify the maintenance supervisor to arrange for container removal.

Normally the cycling of the compactor takes no more than two minutes to complete, so it does not interfere with the daily routine of any on-site personnel.

Gaining resident acceptance

The final issue to be addressed as part of your consideration of a solid-waste compactor is that of resident acceptance. You will be asking your residents to change a feature of their daily lives. In some cases they may have to walk significantly farther to dispose of their household trash.

We addressed this problem at Yarrow Bay by making the installation of the compactor part of an overall environmental package. The program, called "Yarrow Bay Is Going Green," addressed overall environmental concern in several ways. Water-saving devices and water heater blankets were installed in every apartment.

A recycling station was set up next to the compactor. In fact, we referred to the compactor as our "Central Compactor-Recycling Station." To accommodate recycling, we added an extension to the compactor's access pad during construction that allowed the staging of several recycling containers for aluminum, glass, cardboard, and newspaper.

During the construction of the enclosure, we sent out several newsletters to our residents emphasizing the positive attributes of the compactor-recycling station. We even had a contest for the residents to pick a name for our new "employee."

The overall response to our resident marketing efforts were very positive. In fact, we have been amazed at the volume of recyclable goods that have passed through the station.

The bottom line

As a result of the trash compactor and recycling program, Yarrow Bay realized a $25,000 net annual operating savings in garbage disposal costs during 1992. The payback period for the construction of the enclosure was less than eight months. By eliminating the individual building garbage chutes and containers, we also were able to add 12 new covered parking spaces for our residents. Finally, we avoided the unproductive costs associated with repairing the old garbage chutes.

The last question, of course, is just how well the compactor is being accepted by our residents. "Mikey" is doing fine, he eats just about everything.

Pat Ragin, CPM|R~, is president and owner of Patterson Management Group, Inc. in Marietta, Georgia. He performs consulting services and actively manages over 2,000 apartment and mobile-home rental units nationwide.

Mr. Ragin has written previously for JPM and has been a featured guest writer for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He is currently a board member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Ragin, Pat
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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