Scottsdale Arizona – History of Refuse Collection
In 1969, Scottsdale Arizona, led the world into the age of mechanized residential refuse collection.
History / Background
Scottsdale, Arizona, once a tiny suburb of Phoenix, was incorporated in 1951 with a population of
2,000, a land area of one square mile and the slogan “the West’s Most Western Town”. In 1964
Scottsdale created a Refuse Division and began providing municipal refuse collection service to its
residents. At the time the only way to collect refuse from residential households was by hand.
Worldwide, the state-of-the-art technology in the solid waste industry consisted of using rear-end
loaders with crews ranging from 2 to 5 employees who manually loaded refuse into the collection
Scottsdale chose to use a recent innovation in
the solid waste industry called the “train
system”. This consisted of a pick up truck with
a removable bed that pulled four open box
trailers (the “train”). Each trailer was filled by
hand, unhooked and emptied by a front-end
Benefits / Changing the Environment
Although Scottsdale did not intend to be in the truck building business for most of the 1970’s, the
disinterest displayed by the equipment manufacturers made it necessary. Because of Scottsdale’s
persistence, Marc Stragier’s innovative leadership, and the effort of Scottsdale’s employees, a new and
higher standard of technology would be established for the solid waste industry. By pioneering the
mechanization of residential refuse collection, Scottsdale not only improved conditions for its solid
waste collection personnel, but the community as well:
Solid waste collection personnel were no longer manual laborers, but skilled equipment operators
whose salaries reflect the skill required to operate mechanized equipment.
Working conditions improved tremendously, from laboring in the heat and cold to sitting in an air
conditioned cab with an AM/FM radio.
Industrial injuries changed from being a routine occurrence using manual collection, to a virtually
nonexistent occurrence with mechanized collection. In 1973 the 9 employees on the three
remaining manual collection routes had 18 industrial injuries between them during a 6 month
period. Today, industrial injuries are a rarity to employees using mechanized equipment.
Productivity has increased from 90 tons per month per man for manual collection to over 270
tons per man per month today.
The alleys and streets of the community are cleaner and more sanitary as a variety of small,
unsightly and filthy garbage cans with sharp metal edges and poorly fitting lids have been
replaced. Standardized plastic containers are preferred by residents because they are more
sanitary, more visually pleasing, and safer for collection employees and residents alike to handle.
two-man crew were back on their route.
Compared to rear-end loaders the train system
dramatically increased productivity to over 90
tons per man per month. Workers could load
from both sides at the same time and there was
no waiting for a packer blade to clear a hopper.
The train system also proved to be a very
reliable, reasonably inexpensive & low maintenance method of collecting the community’s garbage.
Need For a Change
As with all manual collection systems, Scottsdale’s system had a number of inherent problems. In this
labor intensive business there was a high rate of employee turnover (91% in 1968). The work was
physically demanding. The industrial injury rates
were extremely high, wages for manual laborers were
very low and image was a problem. Manual
refuse collection left the alleys littered with debris,
and a menagerie of homeowner supplied
containers. Sanitary conditions were marginal
at best because many residents stored their garbage in
containers with poorly fitting lids, or no lids at all, in
temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. The community’s
quality of life suffered as a result.
While dealing with these issues was something relatively new to the City of Scottsdale, they had been
faced by the solid waste collection and disposal industry as a whole for decades. Low wages combined
with an extremely physically demanding and unpleasant job made it difficult to attract and retain
workers in the solid waste collection field. No one was raising their son to be a garbage collector. An
Editorial published in the September-October 1971 issue of Waste Age Magazine briefly touched on
this issue. The same issue featured two other pertinent articles. One was on the City of Scottsdale
entitled “Mechanized Residential Refuse Collection”, which describes Scottsdale’s early experimental
efforts with mechanization. The second was on the City of Inglewood, California entitled
“Humanizing Refuse Pick-up”. That article discussed Inglewood’s attempt to address some personnel
issues referred to above.
What do Godzilla, Son of Godzilla, and the Litter Pig all have in common? No, they aren’t Japanese horror flick sequels or remakes, though watching them in action for the first time could have triggered nightmares, I suppose.
Once in a while I read a story that contains so many themes that I don’t know where to start. Did you know about–yes, you Scottsdale old-timers may have guessed–the first automated garbage collection truck and its descendants.
Hard work, stress, necessity, innovation, the drive for efficient delivery of public services, and the value of public employees in that equation are all part of the story of Scottsdale’s world-leading automation of garbage collection.
I note from the article,
According to a history of the [Scottsdale sanitation] department, employee turnover for sanitation workers was an astonishing 91% in 1968. With summer temperatures hitting 120 degrees, some workers quit before the end of the first day.
Even though efficiency improved drastically and reduced physical stress for sanitation workers, automated collection was no picnic for the drivers.
“The guy who drove the truck didn’t have air conditioning and he was behind that hot engine all day,” [former Scottsdale Public Works director Marc] Stragier said. “It was miserable, but boy, you couldn’t tell him to get out of that truck. That was his deal.”
Public service employees aren’t getting a lot of respect these days, even in Scottsdale with our rich tradition of camaraderie and customer service. We have the luxury of taking them for granted because especially in Scottsdale they’ve always done such a good job that they’ve become invisible except for budget time.
Let’s be a little more open-minded about competitive compensation if we are going to expect a higher level of services, and innovation in their delivery.
– See more at: http://www.scottsdaletrails.com/2012/10/21/godzilla-comes-to-scottsdale/#sthash.W6wqViH3.dpuf
In 1969, armed with a Federal grant and a pioneering spirit, Scottsdale embarked on a historical
journey that led the world into the age of mechanized residential refuse collection. This endeavor was
named one of the top 10 projects of the 20th century by the Arizona Chapter of the American Public
Works Association. Below is the City of Scottsdale’s successful submittal for this award.