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A Garbage Truck That Does The Dirty Work
As printed from Newtown Bee, November 2, 1999

Imagine a garbage truck that has air conditioning, tilt-wheel, and cruise control. A truck that has a remote-controlled arm that picks up the garbage can and automatically dumps its contents into the hopper.

Life as a garbage man never was easier.

What is believed to be the first fully automatic waste-handling truck in the state of Connecticut now sits on the lot of Associated Refuse Haulers on Route 25. Company owner Pat Caruso ordered one of the $156,000 vehicles after he saw the truck in operation in New Jersey. His motivation was mostly the safety of his employees.

“I want to eliminate guys from handling trash and lifting,” he said. “I’ve had one employee break a leg, another guy hurt his back, another was hit in the head by a container and would up with a (partial) disability. I decided there had to be a better way.”

With the state’s Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) proposing legislation that trucks have lifters, Mr Caruso, who lives on Bennetts Bridge Road in Sandy Hook, decided it was time to act. He heard about the truck, built by Freightliner and custom-made for the body in Labrie, Quebec, and went to New Jersey to see it in operation by a waste hauler in a rural area of New Jersey. He was so impressed that he ordered one for his business.

The truck has dual drive – two steering wheels – allowing the driver to sit on either side. A camera in the cab allows the driver to see what is happening inside the hopper and also can provide an unobstructed view of the road behind the truck.

“The minute you put the truck into reverse, the camera switches to show everything behind,” Mr Caruso explained.

From the cab, the driver can activate the hydraulics for the arm which reaches out, grabs the trash container, lifts it, and dumps the contents into the hopper.

“It’s robotics  that’s what it is,” Mr Caruso said. “But there has to be a little customer education involved, too. The cart (trash can) has to be positioned six feet from the road and facing the street so the arm can grab it.”

The trash carts, supplied by his company, are 96- and 65-gallon heavy-plastic, wheeled garbage cans with attached, swing-up lids.

Mr Caruso said he was told that with the new truck a residential pickup can be done in eight seconds, but speed is not the objective.

“Our fellows won’t be handling heavy containers, won’t be slipping on the ice if the weather is bad, and they won’t get dusty and dirty,” he said. “It makes it a little more attractive to pick up trash.”

Picking up trash has changed dramatically in the years since Pat Caruso started his business in Newtown in 1982. “Back then I was hauling manure in special containers for farms,” he said. “In 1986 I started residential trash pickup with a cart system.”

Mr Caruso described his new bright green and white truck as “the second generation of automatic and semi-automatic vehicles with robotics and computers.”

The right side of the truck is fully automatic, with the arm that extends and retracts. Refuse also can be picked up on the left side in a semi-automatic system. Either way, the trash is deposited into a hopper where it is compacted. There is a pre-crusher mechanism, “great for Christmas trees,” according to Mr Caruso.

The entire hopper is fully enclosed to prevent trash from blowing out, and computers control the diesel system to help reduce air pollution.

“I hate trash blowing around,” Mr Caruso said. “I was active in the recycling movement in Newtown when the program was set up in 1991 and am very concerned about the environment.”

 There are controls on both sides of the truck as well as in the cab. “Dead-man” switches provide safety if a driver suddenly became incapacitated. The truck also features a manual override in case the automated system develops a glitch. Heated mirrors extend well beyond both sides of the cab for maximum visibility.

But why would a garbage truck need cruise control?

“It’s not something we’d be likely to use on the roads in Newtown, but I’m sure that haulers who travel long distances on highways probably appreciate it. Anyway, it came standard with the truck,” he said.

What does Pat Caruso see in the next generation of garbage trucks?

“They will have GPS (global positioning satellite) systems that will map everything on a computer and you’ll be able to keep track of everything – speed, time, fuel usage – you name it,” he said. “We also will be able to weigh the contents of the containers so that customers will pay by weight. We are charged by weight, so it makes sense.  All of this is coming soon.”

Written by Kaaren Valenta