Waste busters

Modern society produces waste at an alarming rate and keeping up with its reprocessing & recycling is no easy task. Beatrice Cardon reports from a waste transit station in Belgium.

Nobody really likes putting the rubbish out. It smells badly, the bags can split and deposit trash over the floor, it gets on your hands and is generally unpleasant. In fact, the only good thing about it is that you can put a nice clean new bag into the dustbin and start to fill it up again. The old waste is outside and literally forgotten.

But the waste doesn't just disappear. Those invisible hands that collect the rubbish have an important and increasingly complex job to do. No longer is our collective collections dumped into landfill pits without a second thought. Public concern for reducing waste, reusing it and recycling it - as well as increasingly stringent legislation - means that waste handling is now a professional business.

One of the world's largest waste handling companies is SITA, which is part of the Suez group of energy, waste and water treatment companies. With over 1,700 sites in 24 countries, it handles waste for 384,000 industrial companies and 64 million households - totaling 50 million tonnes of waste per year. Even without its parent SITA is the third largest waste management firm in the world, and comfortably the biggest in Europe. With waste treatment sites, sorting centres, composting platforms, incineration units, transfer stations and thousands of trucks, SITA is your local garbage man - but on a global scale.

It is appropriate then that one of the largest waste management companies in the world should be busy in the world's most recycling-conscious country - Belgium. A combination of environmental awareness and a small country mean that Belgians dump less than anyone else into landfills. (In fact dumping of construction waste is banned in Belgium and it must be sorted and reused as much as possible.) SITA has a large transit station near the capital city Brussels where over 150,000 tonnes of non-dangerous waste is sorted and recycled annually before onward transit for final processing elsewhere. In charge of logistics and operations at the station is Eric Schampaert. It is his job to select the equipment and organize it so that waste is received, sorted and deposited on outbound trucks in the least time. "New waste is constantly arriving," says Mr. Schampaert, "Therefore the goal is to get it in and out of the building as fast as possible."

In this finely tuned two shift operation the choice of machinery is dependant on productivity and reliability. "We can't afford to have our machines standing still for any reason," states Mr. Schampaert. The critical machines in question are Volvo - an L30E compact wheel loader, one general purpose L120D two L120E wheel loaders - and an EC210Blc excavator. The excavator is new and was supplied by local dealer VCM Belgium, who is also supporting the machines with customer support agreements, spare parts and service.

Fuel consumption was another important element in SITA's choice of equipment; an area that Volvo CE equipment has traditionally scored highly. By producing maximum torque at low engine speeds the operator can get the performance needed without needlessly over-revving the engine. This reduces fuel consumption and extends engine life. But that is not the whole story. Due to the variability of waste arriving at the station there is not one type of standard solution that works in all circumstances. Because of this construction equipment companies such as Volvo CE offer a range of attachments and options that allow customers to tailor their equipment to suit the operating conditions.

Waste away

The small compact L30 wheel loader is fitted with a sweeper attachment and is charged with keeping the floors tidy and picking up any rubbish blown about by the wind or fallen off trucks. The larger loaders and excavator do the heavy work. While one loader pushes waste into big piles the other is tasked with loading trucks from a raised platform. The EC210Blc is fitted with a waste handling grapple and a raised cab that allows the operator to see down into the high sided pens. The grapple takes skill to use but its ability to grab and rotate through several axes allows the waste to be sorted, picked and loaded onto trucks with great precision - all without having to reposition the excavator, as has to be done with the loaders.

The Volvo machines working at SITA's Brussels transfer station feature only some of the wide array of options available for the waste handling industry. As one might expect, protection systems feature highly, important in the waste processing industry, which can be particularly wearing on equipment. In fact all the main vulnerable areas can have guards fitted. Examples of these are guards for the lights, the windshield, side and rear windows. There are more guards for the boom cylinder and under the cab. Still more for the grease tubes, belly guards, front plate, centre hinge, radiator and steering cylinder- the list goes on. These measures are designed to protect exposed components and to reduce the entry of debris. Many of them are hinged for easy cleaning and allow the equipment to quickly get on with the job of sorting waste and loading trucks.

Modern waste handling machines are not all about protecting themselves; they also are designed to protect the operator and the environment around them. Fire is a constant danger in the industry, with flammable material in abundance. Volvo offers a cooling fan that automatically reverses the airflow periodically to blow out any debris that has become lodged in the radiator cores. The turbo, exhaust manifold and flexible exhaust pipe can all have additional insulation fitted to reduce heat build up in the engine compartment. Just as importantly, the operator needs to be protected from what can be a very dusty environment. The cab air pre-cleaner is specially designed to filter out foreign particles and help the operator breathe more easily. Large glass panels and thin pillars give the operator a commanding view of the work area; particularly important in waste handling situations such as SITA's, where machines work in restricted areas and people are in the vicinity.

As the tasks and the materials to be processed vary, SITA has established an equipment profile that allows flexibility. While the excavator is dedicated to loading trucks, the wheel loaders can switch between loading trucks and other tasks in the station, such as filling ground containers.

Specialist generalists

Excavators and wheel loaders (and even articulated haulers) are undeniably good general use machines in their standard form, but for specialized industries customization can pay dividends in safety, reliability and performance. Such are the customer benefits that application-specific machines and accessory packages like the ones chosen by SITA in Belgium are likely to become more commonplace worldwide.