November 18, 2004 | General

Insider's Look At Trucking Organics

BioCycle November 2004, Vol. 45, No. 11, p. 48
With high costs of fuel and insurance, the key is to get the maximum load on each run – and stay within the legal limit. Also to be considered are feedstock density and delivery constraints.

TRANSPORTATION costs are high on the list of critical concerns for anyone managing or marketing organics. Whether it’s expanding a market area for compost, or determining whether it is cost-effective to service organics generators, questions always come back to: “What are the trucking costs?”
The organics recycling industry may be unique in terms of its trucking needs, primarily because there is a great deal of variation in the feedstocks and end products to be hauled – from very wet sludges or food residuals to drier pellets and compost soil blends. Over the years, truck trailers designed for other industries have been used increasingly by composters and organics recyclers. For example, trailers with belt floors were originally developed for the agricultural industry, e.g. transporting crops such as potatoes. But they also are ideal for materials such as compost and pellets. Side unloading trailers, used typically in the aggregates industry, have found a niche in the organics field, e.g., for transporting biosolids to land application sites – allowing access to fields that end dump trailers may not be able to maneuver or where they could tip over.
WeCare Transportation, a subsidiary of WeCare Holdings LLC in Jordan, New York, is a fairly large-scale hauler in the northeastern states. The company’s fleet includes dump trailers, walking floors, rolloff trucks with containers and belt floor trailers. Through its various subsidiaries, WeCare Holdings manages biosolids, MSW, food residuals, wood, yard trimmings and other organic feedstocks, and markets a range of end products, including compost, lime stabilized soils, pellets, and soil blends. The need to move its raw materials to its processing sites and then transport the end products to markets was a main reason WeCare Transportation was formed as a separate entity. “WeCare Transportation is the largest part of the holding company,” says Jeff LeBlanc, president of WeCare Organics, LLC, another subsidiary. “It is strictly a transport company that manages all the trucks and transports all residuals and products for WeCare. We kept it separate mainly because of truck permits, overweight permits and insurance reasons. We employ about 75 to 80 people in this division.”
Transportation companies continually juggle getting the most out of each run and staying within the legal weight limits of loads. The size of the truck obviously dictates how much material can fit and still meet the weight limit. States differ on what those weight limits are, which plays directly into the vehicles needed in the fleet. “States like New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island all have an overweight permit,” explains LeBlanc. “Haulers can be permitted for loads of 100,000 lbs – including the truck, trailer and product – or a little more depending on the trailer length, whereas in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, the limit is 80,000 lbs. What this translates into in New York and New England is that in order to be competitive, we need to be able to haul large loads.” The 100,000 lb limit, allows for about 32 tons of product; 80,000 lbs allows for about 22 tons of product.
He provides the example of biosolids pellets, which usually weigh about 600 lbs/cubic yard (cy). “Our Trinity belt floor trailers can haul right around 100 cy of material. So we can maximize the amount – get 32 tons of pellets in a load – and still have some room left over.” Another factor, he adds, is whether the product is being sold by weight or by volume. “If we are selling a product by the ton, we want to make sure we get the maximum amount of load for the job, e.g. 22 tons in Pennsylvania and 32 tons in New York. If we are selling by the cubic yard, e.g., compost or topsoil, we want to maximize the yardage on the trailer. We still need to worry about being legal, but then we focus on pounds/cubic yard, and it becomes a capacity issue. A dump trailer can move 40 to 45 cy of compost, but in New York, if that amount weighs 85,000 lbs, then we probably could have fit another 15 cy on the load. With the high cost of fuel and insurance and trying to keep drivers, we need to analyze everything, especially such factors as how many cubic yards are on a load.”
Maximizing load capacity and staying within the weight limit led WeCare to purchase three Trinity belt floor trailers in 2003. It found that its Keith walking floor trailers had the capacity but were not well suited to products such as biosolids pellets. “With our walking floor trailers, we found the pellets get into the grate system, which causes operational problems,” says LeBlanc. “The belt trailer solved this problem.”
Until it purchased the belt floor units, WeCare was using dump trailers to deliver pellets and compost. While that addressed the unloading challenge experienced with walking floors, it also raised a safety issue. “We were concerned about tipping big end dump trailers at their destination, whether it be farm fields, landscape supply yards, or athletic fields at schools,” adds LeBlanc.
Conversely, the company has found that in some cases, dump trucks are the only option where trailers can’t get access. LeBlanc offers the example of a delivery in Boston to provide a soil mix for a green roof installation. “We needed to get a couple hundred yards of a high dollar product into downtown Boston, and our only option was to deliver it in dump trailers. The larger point, when it comes to trucking economics and logistics, is that you need to be smart in how you are selling the product – not just from a tonnage versus cubic yardage perspective – but knowing the end destination and what truck can go there.”
WeCare Transportation also makes efficient use of roll off trucks and containers. In Pennsylvania, for example, the company uses a lot of roll off trucks because it can fit 22 tons in a roll off box, depending upon the size of the box. It also takes advantage of backhauling opportunities. “We might go to a landfill to dump a load of demolition debris and then go next door and pick up some yard waste compost to deliver to our next destination,” he adds. “There are plenty of times we are hauling soil and compost in rolloff boxes.”
Finally, notes LeBlanc, the company still relies on a standard 10-wheel dump truck to do deliveries. “They are handy. For example, at our Jordan, New York site, we have a wholesale landscape supply operation and sell a lot of compost-amended topsoil to landscape companies and garden centers. It is a lot quicker to load the dump truck and make the deliveries then to use one of the trailers.” – N.G.

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