Guide to choosing the right roll-off

Guide to choosing the right roll-off

Roll-off containers are a fundamental part of construction, demolition, recycling and hauling applications. However, not all solutions are right for every customer.

September 10, 2019

Whether you are a hauler, contractor or working in construction and demolition (C&D) recycling, roll-off containers are indispensable for managing waste and recyclables. While the importance of finding the right container is undeniable, doing so can sometimes be overwhelming.

Determining the type, size and brand of container that best suits a user’s needs requires asking the right questions, knowing what’s out there and being willing to challenge preconceived notions.

Standard, heavy or ultra-heavy-duty?

Is standard enough?

Because of the volume and type of materials collected, finding the right container for C&D applications is often straightforward. Most haulers and contractors avoid standard- and heavy-duty containers in favor of ultra-heavy-duty models. However, standard dumpsters or containers may be appropriate for some lighter-duty applications. For example, professionals tasked with clearing household items or using a walk-in container where items can be placed by hand may be best suited with standard-duty options because of the cost. For applications where materials are heavy or machine-loaded, containers typically require more reinforcement.

What type of material will go into the containers?

The primary driver of container choice is the type of material that will be put into it. Heavy-duty containers will typically work well for shingles, wood or light debris. However, heavier materials like concrete, brick and dirt will likely require an ultra-heavy-duty model. While many may not realize it, dirt weighs 1.4 tons per yard, while concrete weighs 1 ton per yard. Therefore, many haulers will not use or provide any container larger than 20 yards for these materials for fear of exceeding weight limits.

How much material is generated?

It’s obvious that the amount of material generated is a key consideration in choosing a container. However, haulers should weigh volume against frequency of pickup to ensure their own profitability. They should think about not just how much material will be generated, but also how long it takes to accumulate and how that affects pickup schedules to select the best fit.

How is it loaded?

In general, containers that are hand-loaded tend to have a more evenly distributed load. This reduces strain on the unit. Anything that will be machine-loaded will have a more concentrated and rougher loading. Therefore, these types of containers require more reinforcement, especially in areas that come into contact with the machinery. More reinforcement may also be needed on the bottoms, where concentrated weight and quick dumping can be a major issue.

How often (and how) is it moved?

Simply stated, repeated movement and loading/unloading causes wear. The more often a large container is moved—whether by roll-off truck, crane or bulldozer—the more reinforcement it needs. While standard duty may be fine for items that are less frequently moved or moved more gently, operators should consider heavier duty options for those that face more contact with machines.

Style and size

Which style is best?

This choice often comes down to personal preference, but standard containers offer different advantages and disadvantages based on their shape. Given the fact that material is more easily unloaded from a container with curved sides, bathtub styles are often used for dirt that might accumulate in the channels and at 90-degree angles of a rectangular container. However, because they can be much more easily reinforced, rectangular containers have historically been favored for heavy-duty and ultra-heavy-duty applications.

How big?

Contrary to popular notion, bigger is not always better. The size of a container should be dictated by volume of waste, how often and how it’s moved, and how much space is available on-site. C&D containers generally come in 10-, 15-, 20-, 30- or even 40-yard sizes to accommodate a range of needs and jobs. However, larger containers do not just have a larger base footprint. They vary in height and configuration, which are other variables users have to think about prior to investment.

Regulatory constraints are also of paramount importance, with many states setting over-the-road weight limits. If these apply in a user’s area, it should be remembered that the extra weight of a container takes away from the amount of waste that can be hauled at one time, so smaller options may be more attractive and profitable.

Customizing containers for specific needs

As evidenced by the breadth of choices, containers are certainly not one-size-fits-all. Top manufacturers offer myriad options that will help users meet specific needs and operating challenges.

Steel upgrades

Increasing the gauge of steel used or adding reinforcements in key areas is one of the primary ways to customize a container. For extra-heavy loads, those loaded with machines, those exposed to the elements and those frequently moved, users should consider adding more steel in several places, including the floor sheet, side sheets, cross members, main rails and top rails.

Configuration options

There are also many different configurations that will help increase service life, ease of use, safety and efficiency. Some of the most common include:

  • Ground rollers: While two ground rollers are standard if the container is to be moved around while on-site, having four ground rollers is a must.
  • Dirt shedders: Dirt shedders can be added to the exterior sidewalls of rectangular containers to keep dirt and other loose material from collecting and possibly blowing off the container while in transit.
  • Inverted angles: Adding these to the top rails will reinforce them and reduce the beating taken from machine loading.
  • Push plates: Also known as crash plates, these are extra steel added to the end of the container where it is being picked up or pushed to take the brunt of the impact and reduce wear.
  • Crane eyes: Crane eyes can be added where the container is picked up by a crane, which is a critical point of wear.
  • Tarping systems: As tarps or lids are required in an ever-greater number of applications, users should consider tarp and lid compatibility, tarp quality and ease of operation.

Recent market changes

Up until recently, there were few changes in the C&D container market. However, several technological innovations in the past couple years have changed the game.

High-tensile steel

Chief among these changes are monitoring technology and the use of high-tensile steel to create strength and durability at a lower weight. While high-tensile steel has been used widely in Europe for several years, new roll-off containers have recently been introduced in the U.S. that offer greater strength than ordinary mild steel grades while weighing less and lasting longer than traditional heavy-duty roll-off containers.


Monitoring technology allows haulers to view the container at all times to determine when additional pickups might be necessary and plays a role in security and loss prevention. Haulers who monitor their containers can keep an eye on their assets at all times and protect against the theft of high-value loads.

Environmental considerations

The Environmental Protection Agency continues to strengthen its regulatory requirements for things like container weight and water table runoff. There is also growing awareness of sustainability issues and an increasing focus on reducing carbon footprint and enhancing possible fuel savings from lighter weight containers.

Cost vs. value

In the hauling business, time and capacity are money. While it may seem more cost-effective to have on-staff repair teams who can spot-weld and fix damaged containers, smart haulers think of their containers as assets that should be making them money at all times. In fact, one week in the repair yard can cost a hauler $500-$700 on average in lost revenue. Focusing on value and total cost of ownership by purchasing the right container will ensure that a business’s roll-offs stay out of the repair yard.

Rather than initial cost alone, users looking for the right container should weigh their needs, establish a set of standards and specifications that works for them, and focus on total cost of ownership. The good news is that there are more options than ever before, and help is available. Users should choose a vendor that will work closely with them to help assess their unique operation and deliver the optimal container solutions for that business’s needs.

This article appeared in the July-August issue of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine. Kirk Warren is the director of product management for the steel division of Wastequip. He can be reached at