Switching to CNG-fueled collection vehicles has allowed Sustainable Waste Solutions to keep on pace with the ever-changing demands of customers while yielding optimum performance and profitability.

Rudy Frank


How did a good idea from a small refuse collector become something very big for the greater good? Sustainable Waste Solutions (landfillfree.com; Souderton, PA) is a highly specialized hauler of industrial and commercial waste. It does not dump its payloads into landfills. Rather, it converts such trash into renewable energy. “We started our business in 2004 (as Specialty Waste Solutions) with one basic premise:  Provide area businesses with a reliable resource for the most secure and environmentally friendly means to dispose waste,” begins Randy Hendricks, Chief Executive Officer.  “At first, it was the local pharmaceutical companies that demanded sustainable and green methodology when it came to trash disposal.”


But Hendricks and F. Scott Woodrow, his Chief Operating Officer, quickly realized food companies, universities, high-tech firms and many other entities simply did not want their waste to end up in landfills, either. “By 2007, we had grown exponentially.  And by 2010, we had tripled our revenues from three year before. We also changed our name to more closely reflect our value proposition … that we were bringing a genuine disposal solution to combat global warming,” states Hendricks.


Today, the 19-employee company has more than 80 customers, including renowned brand names such as Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Lehigh University, and even the Philadelphia Eagles, in over 100 locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Dieter Scheel, SWS’s Business Development Manager, explains the basic steps in his company’s unique process that, from industrial and commercial waste, provides energy comparable to wind and solar power: “First, we bring the refuse to one of our two generating plants. The waste goes into a combustion chamber where heat for water—housed in steel tubes attached to a seven-story boiler—is generated.  Hot water then becomes steam that is then transmitted through a turbine that continuously produces electricity.”


CNG Requirements

But it’s the type and make of SWS’s refuse hauling equipment that’s a major driver in its overall success.  Little more than a year ago, Hendricks, Woodrow and other top executives at SWS decided to improve the firm’s “green” credibility by switching to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)-fueled collection vehicles.


Joe Zarabba is the company’s General Manager. His primary job is to find the absolute best—in terms of performance, efficiency, safety and durability—refuse collection vehicles for SWS’s operations.  And that responsibility now specifically includes those powered by CNG. “The advantages to a CNG truck versus one running on diesel are enormous,” says Zarabba.  “First, there’s the quietness. Our clients are usually in office buildings, industrial parks or a campus setting, so keeping noise pollution to the bare minimum is critical.”


Secondly, there are the many substantial economical CNG benefits. For one, it costs half as much to fuel a CNG truck compared to its diesel counterpart. “Today, the price for a gallon of CNG is about 50 percent less that for a comparable unit of diesel,” claims Zarabba. “So not only is CNG a much cleaner-burning, readily available fuel, it’s vastly cheaper, too.”


But, no matter what type of fuel is involved, there are also significant safety concerns, particularly those of SWS’s large pharmaceutical accounts. “The drug companies, especially, hold us to extremely tight safety guidelines when we pick up on their campuses,” says Zarabba. “Fall protection, for example, is essential on every vehicle we bring onto their property.  We also need to ensure that our driver has the ability to see as many angles as possible on both sides of his truck, in back of him, and also what’s being dumped into his hopper.”


Making the Switch

So, with all these critical considerations, how did Zarabba and staff go about choosing their equipment supplier? First, they looked locally: “I called Mark Brace, our Mid-Atlantic Waste Systems representative.  Over the years, Mid-Atlantic had become our trusted partner for recycling products and, just as importantly, sound technical advice on how to use that equipment,” says Zarabba.  “I also knew Mark was Heil Environmental’s sales contact for our area.”


In early 2012, SWS took possession of its first Heil Half/Pack® front-loader CNG-powered collection vehicle—with four roof-mounted tanks.  Even though the initial cost was slightly higher than a diesel model, the Souderton company will recoup the difference quickly due to the much more economical CNG per-gallon costs. “Our CNG truck is on route more than 150 miles each day,” states Zarabba. “No doubt about it, the more miles a truck averages each day, the larger the CNG overall cost advantage.  For us, this was a financial no-brainer. Plus, our clientele truly appreciates that we’re using cleaner-burning fuel. And that means a smaller carbon footprint for us all.”


The Heil high-compaction Half/Pack comes standard with dual-hopper sump doors that force trash and liquids (that sometimes fall behind the packer blade) to collect below the packer cylinder for easy removal.  In addition, the unit’s patented Shur-Lock™ tailgate locks secure the payload while also enabling the operator, from the safety of his/her cab, to unlock and open the tailgate to discharge waste.  The Half/Pack’s specially engineered clamp-on arms, that pivot to avoid breakage during accidental collisions, ensure ultimate service life. The hopper is double-walled to withstand strong compaction-cycle forces. Safe, tough, quiet, efficient and, of course, CNG-powered.


Exceeding Service Levels

SWS’s recent rapid growth, though, has made a second CNG unit, also a Half/Pack, an urgent must-have in the firm’s 15-truck fleet.“This time, though, we’ve had to think a bit differently in terms of how the vehicle should beconfigured,” says Zarabba.  “Certain customers, whether it’s what we’re disposing for them—or howwe have to maneuver on their property—simply require added or different kinds of options.”


So, armed with Zarabba’s specifications and key requirements, Brace has worked directly with Heil’s (heil.com; Chattanooga, Tennessee) engineers to build the new CNG truck SWS needs to exceed its expected high service levels. For starters, the Heil team is precisely installing four cameras on SWS’s under-construction CNG Half/Pack.  These will ensure that the driver, at all times, has as good a view as possible of whatever is around all sides of—and being dumped into—his truck.


Next, Heil is configuring a smaller and shorter wheelbase that will make turning in tight customer areas far easier and safer. To accommodate height restrictions at many of SWS’s pick-up locations, Heil is expertly installing frame-rail CNG tanks versus placing such containers on the front loader’s roof. Brace is also working with Heil to put a top door on the new Half/Pack to reduce the chance of wind causing trash to blow out during the collection or compaction process.


“Bottom line:  We trust Heil and Mid-Atlantic to keep us on pace with the ever-changing demands of our customers,” says Zarabba.  “Heil products are built for safety, they require very low maintenance, they are exceptionally durable, and the company is genuinely interested in working with us to provide customized equipment that will yield optimum performance and profitability.”


SWS, Heil and Mid-Atlantic Waste Systems: a lasting partnership that has delivered a healthier bottom line for Sustainable Waste Solutions and a healthier, sustainable environment for us all.


Rudy Frank is 35-year veteran of authoring B2B case studies and is VP of Branding and Marketing Communications at Mirage MarCom, a Marketing Strategy and Tactics agency in Monroeville, PA. He can be reached at (412) 372-4181, ext 130 or e-mail rfrank@miragemarcom.


For more information, on Heil, contact Jennifer Shaffer, Director of Marketing Communications, at (423) 855-3488 or via e-mail at jshaffer@doveresg.com.