The Division of Solid Waste has a fleet of five rear-loaders and four front-end loaders. But since the division also performs the street sweeping and storm water catch basin cleaning for the city, its total fleet number is 17 - including the new grapple truck that it purchased. Photo: City of St. Augustine

The City of St. Augustine, Fla., is no stranger to the economic realities of government agencies nationwide: finding creative ways to maintain services, increase revenue, and enhance the stability of budgets.

Bulk collection in the nation's oldest city has gone from a cumbersome two-man operation to a one-man collection vehicle.

A major challenge was how to handle bulk items and brush collection safely. Due to the growth of vegetation, number of rental properties in the city of 13,000, and city-mandated collection policies, bulk collection can range from 5% to 40% of generated municipal waste.

Prior to the implementation of the Petersen model TL-3 grapple in May 2010, workers of the division picked up brush and bulk items in two ways.

First, a flatbed truck used for bulk collection would assist the residential routes with brush collection by placing the brush manually into the bed area of the vehicle. Then the truck would dump the brush debris at the yard waste transfer station and proceed with the collection process. At the end of the week, a Streets Division front-end loader would then assist the solid waste staff with disposal by loading the brush debris into roll-off boxes.

Second, the flatbed would load refrigerators, sleeper sofas, dishwashers, etc. and transport theses types of items to a roll-off container where they were manually unloaded into the boxes. This collection procedure was not only costly to the city but was also a recipe for worker injury.

In addition to this practice of bulk collection, the flatbed would drive through the city looking for items to be picked up. This process was very time-consuming and not the most efficient use of the workforce. Instead, the city decided to use the grapple truck on a “will call” basis. The new process has residents contacting the city when they have bulky items to be picked up, reducing unnecessary fuel consumption and enhancing savings by 25 gallons of diesel fuel per week.

Implementation of the grapple truck into the city's collection process not only allowed the Solid Waste Division to reduce collection to a one-person operation, but it also produced an annual savings of $20,883.00. Since the grapple truck also assists the rear load residential vehicles in the yard waste collection process, there is no longer a need for overtime.

The grapple truck also serves as the storm response vehicle for the division. Due to the geographical location of St. Augustine, there is a potential for storms on the Atlantic side of Florida and the truck would be able to respond quickly to the needs of residents during such an event - although thankfully that hasn't yet been the case.

Stevens is the manager of the solid waste/sanitation department for the City of St. Augustine, Fla.