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Street smart – how refuse collection vehicle design is responding to the modern urban landscape

03 January 2013

With congestion on Britain’s streets at an all-time high and increasing rapidly year on year, Marshall Flemming of FAUN Zoeller looks at how waste collection authorities can respond to the challenge of removing growing volumes of waste from ever more densely populated areas

According to the Department for Transport, at the end of 2011, there were 34.2 million vehicles licensed for use on the road – 28.5 million of them cars.

This number has grown by almost 40 per cent in the past 10 years and the effect on traffic congestion, particularly in built-up areas, has been significant.

In residential areas, the sheer number of cars is making it difficult and in some cases impossible for a traditional refuse collection vehicle (RCV) to navigate them.

As well as being frustrating for the collection teams tasked with navigating over-crowded roads, this is also a concern for logistics managers as it can make timings of journeys extremely unpredictable, varying substantially from day to day and even from round to round.

There are also significant cost and fuel efficiency impacts associated with large vehicles negotiating heavily congested streets, and with public sector budgets under extra scrutiny and environmental concerns top of the agenda, this is causing major headaches for councils.

So what is the solution?

The most radical and futuristic ideas remove vehicles from the equation altogether by installing a system of underground, vacuum-powered collection tunnels that transport waste automatically from drop points used by residents to a central collection facility.

Small-scale implementation of this approach has been achieved in almost a thousand locations around the world with possibly the most famous example being Roosevelt Island in New York City, which has been using the system since 1975.

Other forward-thinking strategy ideas include multi-modal systems where traditional RCVs are replaced by vehicles capable of transferring a sealed container onto trains or water-borne vessels for onward transportation to its final destination. This would reduce road miles and reduce the unpredictability that can be caused by extreme congestion.

While these are nice ideas – particularly for the most densely populated, high-rise metropolitan areas – in reality, the cost and complexity of implementation mean that RCVs will remain the method of waste collection in the vast majority of cases for the foreseeable future.

Real progress in terms of increasing or at least maintaining the efficiency of waste collection in built-up areas is therefore a question of making the most efficient possible use of RCVs.

A key aspect to this is designing the waste collection routes to minimise road miles and avoid the times and areas of highest congestion.

This is a highly complex task, and many authorities employ advanced computerised vehicle routing systems (CVRSs) and consult with experts to ensure that their routes are structured in the best possible way.

The optimum strategy will also be able to adapt the routes in response to seasonal changes, construction of new developments, alteration to the road layout and any other issues that significantly affect the efficiency of any given route.

However, while deployment strategies can make a big difference, if the root of the problem is simply a lack of physical space on the road – and this has become the case in large areas of urban Britain – the only real way to tackle it is to evolve the design of the vehicles themselves to optimise them for the crowded conditions they now face.

Thankfully, just as the past decade has seen an explosion in the popularity of small, highly efficient cars ideal for city use, RCV designers have woken up to the need for more wieldy vehicles.

The two key considerations at the heart of the problem are, on the one hand, manoeuvrability and, on the other, capacity.

There is a balance that needs to be stuck. While a smaller vehicle may be more nimble and better able to navigate constricted, busy streets, if this means a significant drop in capacity then the net efficiency gain may be limited or even negative.

There is also no one-size-fits-all solution. For routes where extreme congestion is likely to be the norm – in and around large city centres, for example – a smaller, more manoeuvrable vehicle will be called for whereas, in lower-density areas, a larger vehicle with higher capacity will be preferable.

Room to manoeuvre

A property that is key to the manoeuvrability of any vehicle is its wall-to-wall turning circle and this is not only determined by the wheelbase of a vehicle – any protruding parts increase the space needed for manoeuvres. This is a particular concern for RCVs, as their tailgates tend to significantly overhang the back wheels.

Just a small change in body size can drastically improve a traditional RCV’s ability to navigate tight streets. A good example of this is FAUN Zoeller’s Evopress.

The Evopress is fundamentally the same vehicle as the long-standing Variopress traditional except that it has an innovative tailgate that is much smaller and lighter than the original design, reducing the turning circle significantly.

With the Evopress, FAUN’s engineers also took the opportunity to modify the body chamber of the Variopress, making its construction more minimal and increasing its capacity to 11.5 tonnes without adding to its external size.

The width of a vehicle is critical and a small change in this dimension can make a big difference to its ability to negotiate crowded streets, as anyone who has driven a full-size RCV around city streets will testify.

It was for this reason that FAUN launched the Narrowpress. Again a modification to the classic Variopress, but mounted onto an innovative mid-steer chassis that has been reduced from 2.5m to 2.3m.


Waste collection authorities should also expect not to have to compromise on functionality if they choose to invest in vehicles that are more urban-friendly – especially in terms of mixed waste collections.

That is why FAUN Zoeller launched the Mini Selectapress, a compact version of its full-size mixed waste vehicle. Again, the width of the vehicle has been slimmed down to 2.3 metres to aid easy passage through congested streets, but the vehicle can still handle two separate waste types.

The vehicle is available with compartments sized in either a 50:50 or 70:30 split to respond to anticipated collection requirements.

Fit for purpose

It is important for authorities to be aware of the street conditions in which their RCVs are operating and to look at what extent rounds are being delayed – and therefore made less fuel and cost efficient – by congestion.

If this is the case, there are a wide range of solutions available that will deliver significant efficiency improvements over traditional RCV designs, and it is worth consulting with a supplier to explore which units would provide the optimum performance.

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