Since Michael Benedetto’s father opened Chesapeake, Va.-based TFC (Tidewater Fibre Corp.) Recycling in the early 1970s, the company has grown and improved its operations one step at a time. Today, TFC is converting its commercial collection fleet to the same standards the company has for its residential collection vehicles.
The recycling company started off big by building what it says is the first automated single-stream material recovery facility (MRF) on the East Coast. That led to TFC Recycling accomplishing more with the MRF, such as being the first facility in Virginia to handle plastic bottles and steel cans.
Adding more materials meant adding more staff. TFC Recycling started with just a handful of employees, but today more than 350 people are on its payroll.
While the waste and recycling company is known for residential recycling—with 700,000 customers, it is the largest residential curbside recycler in Virginia—that crucial aspect is influencing TFC’s commercial recycling.
“We have had many, many customers, including commercial customers, state to us that as good as TFC has been for the last 40 years, the TFC today is significantly different than it was five years ago,” says Benedetto, president of TFC Recycling. “We’ve made a concerted effort to explore ways to improve our business.”
TFC’s current advancement focuses on its commercial service vehicles. The company’s fleet of more than 150 collection and transfer trucks includes 12 commercial front-end loaders (with container sizes ranging from 2 to 8 cubic yards) and 10 roll-off trucks (with container sizes from 12 to 40 cubic yards) for commercial recycling.
The commercial collection trucks travel about 100 miles each day in a 150-mile radius that reaches as far north as Richmond and as far south as North Carolina. TFC haulers collect recyclable materials, including paper, bottles and cans, from its more than 4,000 commercial customers ranging from mom-and-pop stores and fast food restaurants to manufacturers and industrial customers, Benedetto says. Haulers—only one driver is on each truck at a time—mostly collect paper from commercial customers, Benedetto adds.
Other materials, a hybrid of various materials collected from commercial customers, are processed at the company’s MRF in Chesapeake. TFC has another MRF in Chester, Va.
The company uses a designated front loader to collect the other materials, separates the recyclables at its facility and sends all nonrecoverable waste (including waste it collects separately) to its waste-to-energy (WTE) facility. Most commercial customers have a container for recyclables and a separate container for trash.
Benedetto says TFC has purchased many commercial collection trucks new from Mack Trucks for roughly $350,000. “We do have a Mack dealership that is close to us, so it was convenient to buy trucks through that operation,” he says.
The truck bodies, however, vary from McNeilus and Heil to Labrie and Bridgeport. For a number of reasons, TFC is moving toward a standard platform with an Autocar chassis and Bridgeport body.
Hank Brown, director of fleet operations for TFC, admits that the recycling company has too many vehicle styles for its liking. “We’ve got ’em all, which is one of the things we’re trying to get away from,” Brown says. “We’re trying to uniform the fleet … by going to a standard platform with the Autocar chassis and the Cummins motor.”
The recycling company’s main reason for the switch to similar vehicles? Because standardization among a fleet is key to improving efficiency, Benedetto says. “If you’ve got 15 makes of trucks out there, then you need 15 different sets of parts. When you standardize equipment, what you end up doing is minimizing the number of parts you need in inventory. If all of your trucks are the same, your inventory becomes easy to manage, and training is simplified,” he says.
Benedetto continues, “Standardization in our business is very important. It’s a long-term process because you have to work off old equipment you don’t like and replace it with standard equipment, but it is a commitment we have made.”
TFC currently stocks 18 power take-offs that run the vehicles’ hydraulics, which is too many, Brown says. The fewer parts needed for different collection trucks, the more efficient the mechanics can be, he says. “If you have too many electronics on a vehicle, you’re putting a whole lot of different items in your fleet. A mechanic becomes more proficient and faster at what he’s doing if he’s working on the same equipment and it all looks the same at the time.”
Brown adds, “By standardizing your fleet, you not only save money in parts, you save money in training, you save money in your downtime of the vehicle, and the mechanics are much faster at what they can do just with familiarization. I recommend that no matter what you go with, try to maintain a level fleet and a platform.”
Paul Stacharczyk, vice president and chief operating officer of TFC, recommends fleet operators “pick one manufacturer and stick with it.” Value is more important than just price, he says.
Maintenance Is Money
Benedetto credits the company’s “aggressive, well-run” maintenance program for its efficient fleet. Every truck that runs in a day drives through TFC’s “safety lane” and is checked for working lights, tires, oil changes and more. Preventive maintenance (PM) has stretched the life span of its fleet further than the average 10 years for front-end loader trucks and 12 years for roll-offs, Benedetto says.
Brown adds that a lack of preventive maintenance only hurts a company’s overall operations. “Grease is cheaper than steel,” he says. “It’s cheaper to do PM on a truck than to neglect it and wait until the parts need replaced.”
He continues, “We have a three-tier system here. Everyone has a part they take to keep the truck running and to make sure the trucks work all day. We rarely ever get a chance to miss something.”
A national developing trend that TFC has embraced is transforming the company as a whole. Benedetto says when he and other decision-makers searched for a more “environmentally friendly way to operate our trucks,” they realized they could take advantage of the local CNG (compressed natural gas) filling stations.
“That put us in a position where we could start buying CNG trucks without having an immediate need to have our own station,” he says. “We realized in the long run that we needed to have our own station. In order to financially make the model work, we needed about 20 trucks. We made a commitment to expand our residential collection fleet to CNG to get to that threshold and we’re there.”
TFC now runs 20 residential trucks on CNG. Any new truck the company purchases going forward, including commercial collection trucks, will use CNG, Benedetto says. “We are committed, whether it be residential or commercial, whether it be a front-load truck or any new truck going forward is going to be CNG.” He adds, “We’re also looking into a second option: taking existing diesel equipment we have and converting it to CNG.”
It costs TFC about $90,000 to convert a truck it already owns to CNG, Brown says. But Benedetto points out that converting its fleet to CNG would add another 10 years to the trucks’ lifespan. The list of benefits for using CNG is long, too. For instance, TFC could save up to $40,000 per year in fuel per truck, Brown says. “We’ll be able to cut the fuel in half of the cost. The ROI (return on investment) is phenomenal. CNG is an answer to the problem we have.”
Other improvements the company has committed to include installing a dual-camera system as a safety feature and behavioral improvement, Benedetto says. Some commercial collection trucks and containers are already equipped with Sonrai Systems, which has radio frequency identification (RFID) readers and chips that automatically scan and store a cart’s serial number and date and time of service and which truck is on the route for TFC’s use in real time.
“We look at TFC as changing the way our industry does business,” Stacharczyk says. “We are all about innovation and changing the way our business is run.”
The author is an associate editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.