UF Study Points To Garbage, Recycling Trucks As Source Of Litter

Published: February 23 2000

Category:Arts, Engineering, Environment, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Residents in search of neighborhood litterbugs may need to look no further than the garbage and recycling trucks that pick up their garbage — as well as their own sloppy handling of household waste, according to a University of Florida study.

The root of the problem may be the automated garbage trucks that are proving increasingly popular statewide and nationally, said John Schert, director of the UF center that conducted the study, the Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management at the UF College of Engineering. Although the trucks reduce labor costs and injuries to garbage workers, they often result in more litter because they tend to have a sole driver/operator who may not see and respond when pickups result in litter, Schert said.

“I think that in general, the men on the back of the truck were cleaner, but the labor costs were higher and there were more injuries to the workforce, especially back and ankle sprains,” he said. “The waste management industry is trying to respond by redesigning newer trucks that spill less litter when the trucks empty the cans using the automated arm.”

The first phase of the ongoing study found that the amount of litter in a Gainesville subdivision substantially increased after garbage and recycling trucks made their rounds on garbage pickup day. On some weeks, the amount of loose paper, packaging, bags, cups and other litter more than doubled after the trucks came through, the study found.

“Our major conclusions are that people are fairly sloppy in the way they put out their garbage, but also that lots of litter is spilled when the cans are emptied and the recyclables are picked up, and that lots of litter comes out of garbage and recycling trucks,” Schert said.

Bubba Bussard, district manager of Boone Waste Management, the company that collects garbage in Gainesville, attributed part of the problem to old garbage and recycling trucks, which he said the company had largely replaced with cleaner models since the study was conducted. “We’re pretty aware of how the litter problem has been,” he said, adding that the company had spent a total of $5 million replacing the old trucks.

But Bussard added that some blame also may rest with residents.

When residents overfill containers or fail to bag their garbage, the frequent result is that some items escape when the truck picks up the garbage, Bussard said.

“One of the biggest litter problems is loose Styrofoam packaging peanuts,’” he said. “If people don’t bag those, I don’t care what kind of equipment you have, if you tip the trash container, they are going to get out.”

The study focused on a middle-class subdivision consisting of slightly more than 100 homes. The main researcher was Stephen Bissonnette, a UF graduate student and an research assistant at the Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management.

Canvassing the neighborhood on a bicycle, Bissonnette counted and collected all litter larger than 4 square inches on the street and right of way on the morning of trash day before the garbage and recycling trucks arrived. He made similar forays after the recycling truck made its rounds and after the garbage truck came through the neighborhood.

The amount of litter varied considerably from week to week during the study, which lasted from last March through June. But after 15 weeks Bissonnette’s records showed he had collected a total of 229 pieces of litter before the garbage trucks arrived — litter that had been accumulating for a week since his last collection. In his post recycling truck rounds, he collected an additional 108 pieces of litter. The garbage truck, meanwhile, left behind 283 pieces of litter, meaning the litter after the trucks did their pickups totaled 391 pieces.

“There was more litter after the garbage and recycling trucks than there was from the whole week before they came through,” Bissonnette said.

Schert said the center plans to broaden the results of the study and collect additional data in more neighborhoods over different seasons, as well as do a larger project aimed at scrutinizing the litter problem resulting from commercial trash pick up.


Christopher Davis
Stephen Bissonnette
John Schert

Category:Arts, Engineering, Environment, Research