It starts at the cart

Features - Equipment Focus | Collection Carts

How Otto Environmental’s cart management services are easing the customer service burden on haulers and municipalities.

August 1, 2019

© gearstd |

Haulers get paid to efficiently and effectively handle waste at the curb. Through finely choreographed routing strategies and rigorous data assessment, today’s waste collection trucks run like clockwork to expedite pickups in a way that saves time and money.

So, it’s no surprise that having to take time out and interrupt service to deal with a broken or missing cart is far down the list of priorities collection pros want to contend with.

That’s where cart management services like those offered by Otto Environmental Systems North America come in.

Michael Costello, the vice president of sales for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Otto Environmental, says these services take the burden of worrying about cart issues off the shoulders of municipalities and haulers.

“Before I was a vice president of sales for Otto, I was in the waste business for 26 years. I worked for Waste Management, Republic and I owned my own company for a while,” Costello says. “I realized that as large waste companies, we didn’t do a great job of cart maintenance. It’s something that is really important, but it’s not something we did well, and it can really be a pain. It appears to be a low-value, high-maintenance issue because the delivery and maintenance of residential carts is extremely time consuming.”

Through its comprehensive container management services, Otto manages a network of more than 2 million carts nationwide for haulers and municipalities both big and small. These services range from route auditing and container logistics and maintenance to inventory management and cart distribution and recovery.

An Otto employee scans an RFID tag into the system for tracking.

According to Costello, roughly 40 percent of carts distributed in an area require some form of maintenance or attention in a given year.

“Whether it be a cart pickup, delivery, repair or something else, your normal waste hauling company needs to have trucks, people and parts to go out there and take care of that 40 percent. So, in a city with 100,000 carts, you have 40,000 activities throughout the course of a year that these companies have to pay someone to do,” Costello says. “And typically, in my experience running waste companies, they don’t have designated people on staff to do that. Haulers usually have their front load cart people do it, their drivers do it, or their helpers, so it’s not real efficient.”

By having a network of locations across the country, Costello says Otto can leverage economies of scale and simultaneously provide services for multiple clients within a specific geographic region in a way that is more cost-effective than the haulers managing carts in-house.

Although Costello says around 30,000 residents or more is the sweet spot for Otto in terms of making financial sense to service a region, the company’s service agreements are customizable and vary by account.

Maintenance on demand

One of the more consumer-facing initiatives Otto undertakes is fixing and replacing carts. They not only handle container swap-outs for broken containers and for clients who need a different size or type of cart, but also offer container washing, welding and on-site repairs for lids, wheels, axles and lift bars.

“A lot of times, the only connection that the customer has with the driver and the waste company is that container. Once or twice a week, they come by and pick it up. And if that container is not well-maintained or if it’s broken, the customer may have the perception about the hauler not caring,” Costello says. “Whether that’s true or not, that’s the perception they get. So, it’s very important that these customers get the opportunity to have their container fixed right away and that they receive good customer service because that reflects on the waste management company. That’s why we really strive, when a hauler’s customer calls, texts or communicates with us in any way, to represent the company well.”

An Otto employee loads carts for delivery to residents.

Residential collection carts are designed to stand up to the rigors of weekly collections, but even advanced engineering can’t protect these containers from occasional damage from repeated use.

Whether it’s a broken wheel, a loose lid (which Costello says combined comprise roughly 60 percent of the maintenance work the company does), or another issue that needs to be addressed, Costello says his team can be quickly deployed by a simple text message or phone call from a resident or collection driver to the service phone number located on each cart.

“We have a really dynamic routing system where we have our container repair person on the street running day in and day out,” Costello says. “If you have a garbage truck driver, for example, realize one of the carts that was just dumped is broken, that person can text or call to our dispatch people. And if we’re in the area, we’ll come back and provide service within an hour. If not, it’s within 24 hours. It’s just a service that a typical garbage company can’t do.”

This not only translates into time savings for municipalities and waste companies who don’t have to worry about maintenance, Costello says, but also helps mitigate expenses.

“There are a lot of savings for the municipality or the waste company because they don’t have to hire extra staff to deal with fixing cart issues. If you’ve 100,000 carts in a city and 40,000 of those are being serviced every year, you probably need two or three people and two or three pickup trucks dedicated to this, as well as maybe a customer service person—not to mention the need to have an inventory of wheels and lids and other items to fix these issues. We eliminate all that so it becomes very cost effective for the municipality or the hauler.”

Managing inventory

Collectively, deployed carts make up a significant investment for municipalities and haulers. That’s why being able to keep track of every asset is so important. Costello says Otto encourages every client it works with to adopt radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in its carts to better monitor containers.

“We really encourage everybody to have that RFID system in their carts. And from those, we have a serial number. Every cart we put out, we track. These carts go into our computer database, and every time that cart is moved, picked up or delivered to a new location, we are tracking it to know where it is,” Costello says. “The typical municipality or waste company pretty much has no idea how many carts they have out in the field or where they are at any given time. Some cities have 500,000 assets that they have to keep track of, and we do that through our technology.”

This tracking helps eliminate the common problems of lost or stolen carts and also identifies residents who may be experiencing a disproportionate number of cart-related issues. Costello says this data can also help spot problems with defective carts so that manufacturers can be notified.

Additionally, Costello says this information can be used to improve collection behaviors.

He cites an example of being able to see patterns of maintenance issues along a specific route as a catalyst that might help identify potential problem behavior.

"The typical municipality or waste company pretty much has no idea how many carts they have out in the field or where they are at any given time. Some cities have 500,000 assets that they have to keep track of, and we do that through our technology.” –Michael Costello, vice president of sales for Otto Environmental Systems North America

“We can look at a route and say, ‘You know, this one route is going through wheels at a really fast pace.’ That probably means you need some adjustments to your collection vehicle arms or some counseling with your driver,” Costello says. “If left unaddressed, that is going to continue to damage carts and is eventually going to do damage to the arms of the truck, the hydraulics or something else. So, this helps with cost savings again.”

Costello says that this type of analysis came in handy when the city of Plano, Texas, began experiencing a rash of wheel damage unexpectedly.

“With this data, we sent our guys out on the road to see what was going on. They followed behind the trucks and it seemed like their arms were not calibrated properly, so they were breaking wheels. This was costing them in parts because you can’t warranty them if they’re damaged due to driver abuse. So, they were able to adjust the arms on their side loader, and they remedied the problem of breaking the wheels, which saved them a lot of money they would’ve spent on new carts,” he says.

Between the cost savings and ability to take the burden of cart management off the shoulders of haulers and municipalities, Costello says Otto has been able to establish itself as an invaluable resource for waste management professionals.

“I think any garbage man you talk to will tell you it’s really a pain to deal with these issues,” Costello says. “What we like to do is just completely eliminate these cart-related issues for our clients, but the main thing is to make sure the customer service is seamless when it comes to our residential customers. And residential customers seem to be the customers that complain the most and are in contact with their cart a couple times a week. If it smells or it’s damaged or broken, they have to roll it back to the garage or the side of the yard and they know about it. And that’s where I think we’re really strong. … I think that’s really our value proposition.”

The author is the editor for Waste Today magazine and can be contacted at