Digital tools help trash collectors during the holidays

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Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than usual, amounting to about 1 million extra tons per week nationwide. 

In fact, Christmas wrapping amounts to so much extra waste that if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the amount of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.

Garbage collectors pick up that waste, but in Alameda County they are getting some help from digital tools on the trucks that company officials and drivers say are improving customer satisfaction while helping the environment.  

The GPS units, cameras and natural gas powered trucks used by Waste Management of Alameda County are in stark contrast to how the company started out 75 years ago. Back then, trash collectors used sacks to carry garbage, paper maps to chart a route and drove trucks powered by diesel. 

“(The digital technology) helps me a lot,’’ said Waste Management of Alameda County commercial driver Joe King of San Leandro. “I can actually service a customer, I can actually repair a bin and I can send information to our office without ever getting on the phone or getting on the radio.”

The computerized routing systems also saves fuel and reduces wear and tear on city roadways and the trucks because it cuts down on the amount of driving the garbage collectors do, Waste Management officials said. 
GPS tablets on board every company truck provides mapping and routing information in real time, allowing drivers to record pickups and make changes to their route if needed.

“The digital technology helps during the holidays because we can reroute our drivers, we can give them information for extra pickups in real time and we are not printing out paper stuff,’’ said Todd Nienhouse, senior district manager for Waste Management of Alameda County Inc. “If our customers have more material set out or they need an extra pick up then we can get that information over to our drivers.”

Nienhouse said the GPS units allows customers to find out when their pickup will be on trash day. 
Trucks have cameras so drivers can snap photos of containers and carts and let customers know about problems with how a bin is placed.
Cameras also help drivers maneuver more carefully, potentially saving a life.

“If I’m on a busy street, the camera can tell me if someone is walking behind the truck or if there is a vehicle behind the truck,’’ said King, who has been with the company for 24 years. “If I’m backing out, we have a left and a right alley cam and it can show me if someone is coming from the left or the right. And that can save me from an incident. The digital technology saves me a whole lot of trouble.”

More than 200 of the trucks are powered by natural gas, some of which is generated by the trash dumped at the local landfill.

“These trucks are game changers for the environment,’’ said company spokesman Paul Rosynsky. “They emit nearly zero particulate emissions, they cut smog-producing nitrogen oxide by 50 percent compared to diesel and they reduce our country’s dependence on oil.”