The Story Behind a First-Ever, New Underground Waste System Deployed in the U.S.

Some things are inevitable: death, taxes and dumpsters—or maybe not. Sanitation Superintendent, Jody Kirkendall was asked to find a groundbreaking new waste technology for the City of Kissimmee, FL—one that would eschew dumpsters as they take up too much space and, let’s face it, are not that nice to look at.

Kissimmee, just south of Orlando, is nestled by the northwest shore of Lake Tohopekaliga—that is Lake Toho, for short. Lake Toho Redevelopment is a new mixed use development underway, which will encompass four city blocks downtown. A fulfillment of the city’s goals for a “live, work, play” environment, it will feature 260 apartments, 16 townhomes, 15,000 square feet of commercial space and a 120-room hotel. Nearby you will find a lakefront park and a train station. There is one thing, however, the project lacks: room for dumpsters.

City Manager Mike Steigerwald challenged Kirkendall to come up with some ideas for this future showcase project. The result: a groundbreaking effort, a new underground refuse collection system, and a first in the U.S. But that is getting ahead of the story.

Looking for a Solution

When the city manager asked for an innovative solution, Kirkendall accepted the challenge. He began researching underground possibilities. He learned of a vendor in North Carolina, but its containers were too large aboveground for his needs. His research led him to an Italian vendor with an intriguing design but one that would face several challenges to succeed in the U.S.

Among the hurdles: What kind of truck chassis would be crucial for the technology to work as designed? How strong would it need to be to handle a truck body that pulls bins up from an underground vault and dumps their contents into a vehicle? How soon could the engineering be accomplished and when could an ideal, working truck be delivered?

Kirkendall, whose city takes care of more than 15,000 residential customers and 790 commercial customers, contacted Autocar Trucks (Hagerstown, IN), the longtime manufacturer of its fleet of 13 fully automated side-loaders. “We’ve had many years of buying their product,” says Kirkendall. “They’ve  always had great service. Their  trucks  are  roomier than others. They’re really fast about service, too.” So he made the call.

Developing the Right Truck

At some companies, when a customer calls with an unusual request, you might hear, “We don’t do that here,” or even, “Take a number.” Not at Autocar. The 119-year-old Indiana-based brand prides itself on custom engineering trucks specifically for refuse applications.

“We were excited to get the call from the City of Kissimmee,” says Cliff Buck, Director of Fleet Sales at Autocar. “We love participating in industry firsts and helping haulers meet their goals, even when there’s no blueprint. This project had a challenging deadline, but Kissimmee needed us to bring new technology to the United States and the refuse industry. Of course we were in.”

Autocar began working with the city to develop specifications for a truck that could support the body and accommodate the new systems designed by Nord Engineering. One of the first challenges was to determine the ideal chassis configuration. It would need to support the “tower” or arm that lifts the cutting-edge underground containers, which typically weigh 1,500 pounds each, yet stay within the state and local regulations for total vehicle weight.

Autocar worked with the city for several months on the specs. The truck manufacturer typically custom-engineers trucks for each customer’s specific applications and routes. Just recently, Autocar went a step further by providing a selection of pre-engineered trucks available for last-minute contract startups.

“Sometimes business growth happens overnight and we recognized that’s a challenge our customers face. With our Ready Truck program, the customer gets a truck that’s already in the build cycle but is far superior to a generic stock truck that you might find elsewhere,” says Buck. “These trucks have been pre-engineered to integrate the most common refuse applications and body manufacturers.”

The City of Kissimmee wanted to move very quickly, and Autocar understood. “We’re working to get our build-time down to the very shortest period possible,” says Buck. “The challenge in this case was that Kissimmee’s truck was a brand new refuse application—and they needed it now.”

After consultation with Nord Engineering and careful study, the answer was an Autocar ACX® side loader, custom-engineered to support Kissimmee’s unique underground refuse crane bodies.

About the New Underground Technology

Nord Engineering’s underground container is about the size of a community mailbox and can contain 6 ½ cubic yards of material. Compared with a massive dumpster, it’s actually pleasing to look at.

Besides taking up less space than a dumpster, here are some of its other features the City of Kissimmee appreciated. The enclosed design:

Prevents vermin and nuisance animals such as bears from having access to the refuse;
Contains refuse, preventing it from blowing away and contributing to blight and pollution; and
Boasts a security feature to reduce illegal dumping.
Nord also helps municipalities manage limited space aboveground. It makes an aboveground unit comparable to the capacity of 15 large garbage cans.

As Kissimmee’s new Autocar was being mounted with the body, the city anticipated substantial interest from commercial customers, nearby sanitation districts and other cities. The city opted to design and build a demonstration site at City Hall to showcase the Nord system and Autocar truck.

A Smooth Process

The City of Kissimmee started digging in early 2017. Build-out, to install the bin systems, took a bit longer than scheduled because of underground utilities and old pipes from the previous City Hall.

The system became operational in April 2017. And, as expected, it began to draw a crowd. Today, at City Hall there is one underground system for garbage and one aboveground unit for recyclables.

Viewers appreciate the smooth process. It takes about two minutes to lift and empty an underground unit, comparable to the time to pick up traditional dumpsters. An aboveground unit typically takes only one minute to hoist, empty the recyclables into a truck and place the unit back on the ground.

As the city surmised, nearby areas have been in touch. Kirkendall has received inquiries from as far away as Texas. Already, the City of Kissimmee’s sister city, St. Cloud, has two aboveground units and will be installing one underground.

Shortly after the new truck went into service, the City of Kissimmee sanitation department was asked to start regular service with underground containers for businesses along the nearby West 192 corridor—an increase in business for the city. There is talk about purchasing 30 additional underground units. In fact, Kirkendall’s planners envision a day when half the city’s commercial accounts use underground systems. If a commercial business decides to try the new systems, they’ll need a contractor to dig the hole for the vault to house the container.  Then the sanitation department will deliver the container and set it.

Kissimmee has already ordered two more Autocar ASL trucks for their residential fleet and is planning two further custom Autocar trucks for their underground collections. “I really love the system,” says Kirkendall. He notes, “There are other underground systems; they just didn’t fit what we were looking for.”  The combination of Nord Engineering and Autocar Trucks has proven to be the winning combo for Kissimmee. In hindsight, it seems inevitable. In a good way.

To see the arm and truck in action, visit https://vimeo.com/channels/kissimmee/211720039.

Published in Waste Advantage magazine, September 2017: http://www.mazdigital.com/webreader/51320?page=58