Re-evaluating the pros and cons of container choices for commercial dumpster service.
By Andy Sorensen

Back in 1936, Dempster Brothers in Knoxville, TN patented the Dempster Dumpster, designed to make it easier to collect waste from their construction sites. It did not take long for the dumpster to become very popular and, as a result, they closed their construction business and focused on selling dumpsters. Except for the use of new materials and coatings, the general configuration of dumpsters has not changed much since the early models. The concept is elegant in its simplicity—a steel container with fork pockets that can be picked up and dumped in a truck onsite for transport to a disposal facility. Prior to this invention the trash and containers were hauled away.

According to data from IBISWorld, the 2019 U.S. dumpster rental market generated $405.5 million dollars. This figure represents the rental of the container only and does not include other fees charged by the hauler. For haulers to capture more market share, they need to offer the best container solution for their customers and reduce operating expenses.

Deciding What Best Meets Your Needs
There are many factors that go into choosing which type of dumpster is best for your customers and your business. Here are some questions to ask when deciding which type of container would best meet your needs:
1. What type of climate/weather will the container be exposed to?
2. Will the driver have to move the container by hand from an enclosed area?
3. What type of materials will be put in the container?
4. Will the container need to be animal proof?
5. Will the container need to be locked?
6. Can the container be repaired onsite?
7. What is the cost of repairs? How long will the container be out of service?
8. How easy is the container to deliver and service?
9. How much space is required for storage when not in use?

2-Yard Steel. 2-Yard Modular. 2-Yard Poly.

Haulers currently can choose between three types of dumpsters:
1. Steel
2. Poly or Plastic
3. Modular Steel Frame with Bag Liner

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each type of dumpster.

The standard steel dumpster’s main strength is the durability of steel. They can take a beating in all kinds of weather and hold a high volume of trash. In some cases, steel is the only material strong enough to contain the type of waste being dumped such as construction debris. There are situations when the weight of the steel dumpster is a major drawback as it makes it more difficult to move, deliver, pick up and can result in injury to the employee. The design of the dumpster makes it possible to stack only three of them for storage and companies need acres of land to store them. Eventually, steel containers will rust, especially the bottoms. In some locations, such as coastal cities, the salt air will cause the dumpsters to rust more quickly and result in the need for more frequent repair or replacement. Many companies exist that specialize in replacing bottoms and refurbishing containers. Some will even come to the site to do the work, but in most cases the container is taken out of service for repair.

Poly or Plastic
Some drawbacks of steel models were addressed with the invention of the plastic or poly, molded dumpsters first used in the 1980s. Plastic dumpsters are significantly lighter than steel and most of its components will not rust, but it can crack in extreme cold weather. The use of one-piece molded dumpsters allowed manufacturers flexibility in color, UV blocking, etc. They are also much quieter than steel models. For many applications, plastic dumpsters represented a major improvement over steel. Like steel dumpsters, plastic models typically can only stack three high for shipping and storage. While some parts can be replaced such as lids and casters, if the container wall cracks the dumpster cannot be repaired and must be replaced. For more on plastic dumpsters see Pedrito Gell’s excellent article, “Rethinking Plastic FELs” in the May 2019 issue of Waste Advantage Magazine.

Figure 1: Comparing the three container options.

Modular Steel Frame with Bag Liner
A third option in dumpster design combines the strength of steel with the durability of a poly bag in a modular design. Modular dumpsters are repairable on site and weigh about the same amount as a plastic dumpster of similar size. A 2-yard model weights 260 lbs. The use of a poly bag as the liner for the container means this type of container will not be useable in all situations.

Construction waste and other heavy, sharp materials would damage the bag. Various bag options allow the container to hold liquid waste. Since the frame of the container is made of steel, it will eventually rust. However, parts that rust or are damaged can be replaced onsite. The primary benefits of this type of container is that it can be collapsed for shipping and storage, weighs much less that steel, and nearly all parts can be replaced on site. When folded for shipping or storage the units can be stacked nine high. The lower weight and modular design of this container makes it possible to deliver to the site with a pickup truck or similar vehicle. The lighter weight of the container makes it much easier to move in the field, reducing fatigue and chance of injuries for the driver.

Comparing the Options
In comparing the three options (see Figure 1), four key differences stand out between steel and poly versus the modular frame with bag design:
1. Number of units that can be stacked,
2. Repairability onsite,
3. Ease of deliverability, and
4. Storage space requirements and ease of movement.
The new modular bag option is superior in these respects as it can be stacked 9 high (2 -yard size) and all parts are replaceable/repairable onsite. Much less space is required to store the stacked, modular units allowing them to be placed in or outside. In certain climates, the ability to store containers inside will preserve the finish and cleanliness of the unit making it easier to deploy. The unibody design of steel and poly do result in greater durability and the ability to resist damage from some waste content and are ideal for containing liquid waste.

Modular Dumpsters stacked nine high and one assembled.

Additional Considerations
In choosing a dumpster, it is also important to consider the equipment and personnel needed to deliver the product to the site. Given the nationwide shortage of Class B drivers, haulers would benefit from choosing the modular dumpster model as it can be delivered with a pickup or other smaller vehicle. In any case, the ability to deliver a dumpster without specialized equipment or drivers with a Class B license will save time and money for the hauler.

Nine Modular Dumpsters stacked for shipping or storage.

Another important consideration when choosing a container is the total cost over the lifecycle of the product. Factors to consider when determining lifecycle cost include:
1. Initial cost of unit
2. Profit generated by the unit
3. How long will the container last before it will need service or replacement?
4. How much does it cost to repair or replace parts?
5. What are the costs associated with storage and delivery?
6. Should the container require repair or refurbishing, how long will the container be unavailable for use? (Lost revenue)

In evaluating these factors, in compared to steel and poly, the modular frame with bag liner design offers significant cost savings over time because of its repairability onsite, which keeps the containers in the field, gives them the ability to store many units in a smaller space (in or outside) and eases delivery without the need for a driver with a class B license. Haulers now have three options to consider when purchasing containers for their business. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. What would the Dempster Brothers choose? | WA

Andy Sorensen is a successful entrepreneur and has started several multimillion-dollar companies. His business ventures have included a moving, freight brokerage, and most recently, a trash company—GarbageMan, A Green Company. GarbageMan grew rapidly making the Inc. 500’s list of fastest growing companies three times. His unique ability to manage logistics and incorporate innovative sales techniques made GarbageMan a success and competitive with national haulers. His efforts, along with his team, led to a successful sale of GarbageMan to national hauler Waste Management. Following the sale, Andrew applied his knowledge of the trash industry to the development of two spin-off companies: Waste Container Systems, a lightweight commercial dumpster and Sales Stryke, a technology-based, ‘buy now’ feature for waste haulers and service companies to capture online sales. These two companies are poised to revolutionize the waste and service industries. For more information, call (763) 269-8273, e-mail or visit

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