Baler best practices

What commercial operators should know about getting the most from their balers.

Designed to quickly and easily crush and compact large volumes of cardboard boxes into a single bale, balers have become an essential piece of equipment in retail and large facility settings. The interest in balers is not surprising given their ability to help operators save time and money while ensuring compliance through the reduction of waste volume, the extension of pickup intervals, the enhancement of recycling efforts, improved internal efficiency and bolstered in-house safety and cleanliness.

According to recent manufacturer estimates, by compacting and baling trash on-site with a cardboard baler, facilities can reduce trash volume by up to 90 percent, reduce costs by about 50 percent through less frequent pickups and create revenue through the ability to sell the baled cardboard to recyclers.

While a baler can provide significant value, purchasing one can be a major capital investment for many operations. That’s why it’s critical for business owners to thoroughly vet their options before purchasing a baler to get the most value from their equipment.

Selecting the right equipment

Although balers can drive great operational efficiencies, they are not for every business. Vertical balers work well for retail, office, manufacturing and other packaging-intensive operations that generate one to two bales of cardboard per day, each weighing approximately 1,000 pounds. Larger capacity horizontal balers are for higher volume operations generating one to two of these bales per hour. Based on tonnage and price, baler options go up from there.

Before committing to purchasing a baler, it’s important for operators to ensure they have sufficient space for the machine and equipment like a pallet jack or forklift to move the bales as needed until pickup. The size of the bale produced must also be a consideration. For instance, the standard 60-inch by 30-inch baler creates bales that fit on a normal pallet, but other sizes are available based on specific needs.

Before purchase, operators should bring in a vendor for a free waste stream audit to help answer critical questions, like where and how waste is collected, stored, loaded and disposed of within the facility, to determine the best total solution for its needs so decision-makers can choose equipment that is most compatible with its initiatives.

Working with a business-friendly hauler is also imperative for helping businesses get the most value from their baler. Operators should do their homework and look for a hauler that will work with the business on the frequency of pickup based on its unique needs. Businesses should also use a third-party index to determine the fair market value of corrugated cardboard generated for recycling. Typically, these haulers will apply recycling proceeds to offset a business’s hauling fees.

Necessary maintenance

Fortunately, today’s balers are designed to be easy to use and durable—most balers can stand up to frequent use for 10 to 15 years on average. However, following a basic maintenance schedule can play a key role in protecting this investment and maximizing service life.

The following are some baler maintenance best practices:

  • Remember the basics: Check the oil weekly for level and clarity, adding oil as needed. Regardless of timing, the oil should be changed if it smells, appears discolored, contains water or lacks lubricity when rubbed between the fingers. Inspect hoses, fittings and the area around the baler for leaks and spills, as well as abrasion or cuts, and tighten parts as needed. Because a baler is hydraulic, a leak can not only damage the system, but create a possible safety hazard as well.
  • Take a walk around the machine: Balers operate in demanding environments, and even the toughest pieces of equipment can rust or develop cracks in frames, welds and cylinder mounts. Visually inspecting the machine itself (particularly for older machines) at least once a week and verifying that it is securely mounted will go a long way toward preventing a failure.
  • Ensure proper use of the machine: Improper loading and/or placing items in a baler that are not intended for that model can lead to premature wear and possible failure. Operators should make sure all staff members understand the intended use of the baler and post signage (often provided by baler manufacturers) on and around the baler to offer reminders.
  • Remove debris: Foreign objects such as dust, debris, dirt, grease and moisture can impair the baler’s function, so it’s best to remove any buildup immediately, especially from the power unit or platen. Select a baler that places the power unit at eye level so it is readily accessible and easy to service.
  • Run the system: Running the system frequently and observing it through one full cycle periodically ensures and verifies proper operation.
  • Use all powers of observation: Does something smell funny? Does the baler sound different? Is it running hotter than normal? Anything aberrant can be a sign of trouble, so it is important for operators to trust their gut.

Recommended scheduled maintenance protocols


  • Inspect and lubricate safety gate chains, master links, safety gate tracks and support angles.
  • Tighten cylinder retaining bolts and torque to 150 foot pounds


  • Drain, flush and refill the hydraulic oil tank
  • Check all fasteners and tighten as required
  • Replace the air breather cap and spin-on filter element
  • Closely inspect the structure of the baler for potential trouble areas and tighten anchor bolts
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical connections

Be cognizant of modifications

Although rare, some users choose to make minor modifications to their balers. Because even minor changes can impact the safe operation or performance of the equipment, manufacturers recommend that all modifications be in accordance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines prior to implementation.

Safety first

Nothing is more important to the life of a baler or its user than safe operation. Operators should talk to their equipment manufacturer about on-site training when a baler is initially installed and participate in regular refresher courses on safe baler operations and maintenance.

Smart companies not only train new workers, but also possible substitutes and offer yearly refresher courses for all operators to emphasize safe procedures. It’s also imperative that users and those servicing any piece of equipment follow lockout/tagout procedures as outlined in the owner’s manual. These procedures not only ensure proper maintenance but encourage and reinforce desired behaviors to protect those working with and near the equipment.

Finally, buying from forward-thinking manufacturers that have worked to engineer out possible safety issues can also significantly reduce injuries or the need for major repairs. Some baler features that can make for safer operations include visual indicators that help operators avoid overfilling, built-in forklift pockets that allow for safer transport of the machine on a forklift and chains that break away rather than jam the system or allow unsafe buildup of pressure if an operator attempts to eject a bale with a closed door.

Manufacturers have focused great time and effort in making balers as user-friendly and durable as possible, but, as with anything, a little foresight can go a long way in helping operators maximize their investment.

Kirk Warren is the director of product management at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wastequip LLC. He can be reached at

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