Top three considerations when choosing a self-contained compactor

Supplement - Organics Equipment | Self-Contained Compactors

Certain types of wastes, such as medical and organics, can necessitate the use of self-contained compactors.

March 12, 2020

Photo Credit Wastequip

When looking to improve waste management processes, compactors have become a necessary solution for reducing waste volumes and mitigating the need for collection services. However, unique waste streams often require different types of compactors to manage the specific materials being processed.

For wet waste and organics, which produce liquids after being compacted, a self-contained compactor can be an operator’s best bet. Optimal for restaurants, nursing homes, hotels and more, there are a few considerations to take into account when choosing the right unit for an operator’s needs.

1. The type of material being processed

Before investing in a compactor, operators should understand the type and volume of material that will need to be processed every week. The amount of waste being generated is one of the primary considerations for knowing which type of compactor a business will need. By looking at current waste hauling requirements, an operator can easily determine what type of cubic yardage and waste weights it is generating.

Designed to accommodate high-volume liquid applications, self-contained compactors are ideal for food and medical waste. Also known as “ground-fed” compactors, these units typically sit on the ground and can be found outdoors behind a business.

Unlike stationary compactors, which are best used for solid waste applications, sealed compactors work in conjunction with the container. Permanently attached to the container, the compactor pushes waste into the larger container for accumulation and subsequent pick-up by the hauler. With a holding capacity of anywhere from two to five cubic yards, the compaction ratio achieved by these compactors in usually five to one.

Liquids produced from wet waste can be a big issue with compactors that aren’t self-contained. To separate this byproduct from the solid waste, sealed units feature a drainable sump to gather and dispose of the liquids in a safe and responsible manner. This way, none of the liquids soak into the solid waste during compaction.

A self-contained compactor can protect maintenance and waste collection personnel from these liquids, as well as reduce potential contact with blood borne pathogens (BBP) and needles in medical waste in the process.

“This just provides additional protection in case there’s any contamination, keeping that at-risk medical waste out of the waste stream and reducing exposure to the service personnel,” says Kirk Warren, director of product development at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wastequip.

2. Cleanliness and security

According to Warren, food and medical waste streams necessitate a different compactor since the byproducts can be harmful to not just personnel, but the compactor’s components. Self-contained compactors help sequester this waste and related byproducts, which creates a more sanitary means of disposal.

Traditional dumpsters often have overflow issues, with waste either piling up around them or having liquids leak out of the container. Sealed compactors help tackle this by preventing liquids and wind-blown trash from escaping the container, which means less litter and time needed for cleanup.

Since businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores and hospitals can be susceptible to insect and rodent infestation, a sealed compactor can help reduce odors and access to the waste. In addition, these compactors can improve a site’s general appearance and cleanliness, prevent scavengers and reduce pilferage.

“As food waste breaks down and rots, [personnel] can be harmed by some of the byproducts,” Warren says. “Whether it’s maggots, potential infection or just from the odors that emanate from it, people find a lot of discomfort there.”

For locations that require heightened security, like airports and apartment complexes, a major benefit of self-contained compactors is that they offer security. To keep waste secure, a self-contained compactor can prevent unauthorized access to waste. By having a sealed container, confidential data is protected inside and a security chute keeps merchandise from being taken out the back door. The enclosed design of the unit also prevents others from using the container to dispose of their own trash or hazardous waste.

Additionally, since these compactors help mitigate the need for frequent pickups, they help reduce the traffic from collection trucks and maintain peace and quiet. These compactors generally can also make for a safer business, taking the responsibility of handling and breaking down waste manually off employees.

When considering purchasing a unit, Warren recommends conducting a waste audit to understand the operator’s preferred application and who will be affected.

“The best way to do that is you want to speak to the employees who are actually engaged in those tasks,” he says. “So, you want to talk to the people who are collecting it, that are emptying it, that have to transport it, and the people that work on the equipment. And when you understand the application, then you can better select the right equipment to safely and efficiently manage your waste stream.”

3. Scheduled maintenance and cost benefits

According to Warren, traditional compactors charged with handling food and medical waste are at risk of needing more frequent maintenance and upkeep.

“As far as components, food waste can be, and is, highly acidic,” he says. “So, because it’s highly acidic, it prematurely wears the steel components because they sit in that [caustic] material and it just rots away.”

Warren recommends that companies research the expected longevity and service intervals that may be required for upkeep when considering a compactor purchase. Factoring in equipment downtime can help an operator better understand these concerns and budget for the business’s needs.

“The end user’s biggest pain point is reducing downtime,” says Warren. “Whether you’re a supermarket, restaurant or a mall, you don’t [want] to worry about your compactor breaking down. And that’s what usually happens, the waste will build up because it’s small and it works its way behind the ram, which pushes the waste into the compactor and builds up over time. “

Having a self-contained unit can help cut down on contamination, minimize downtime and the need for repairs, and save companies money in the process. These compactors also require less cleaning thanks to how they’re designed.

Warren says that compactor manufacturers can design these self-containing units so their hydraulic components are located outside the charge box area, eliminating the need for personnel to clean behind the ram.

“The pivoting ram doesn’t require the cleaning behind it that traditional compactors do,” says Warren. “Manufacturers normally recommend that you clean out behind the ram every 90 days, depending on how often you’re using the equipment. So, that’s four times a year you don’t have to perform that task.”

With any compactor, companies can realize substantial labor and productivity gains. And while choosing the right self-contained compactor for a business can require research and time, it is important for operators to do their homework to understand the benefits of different equipment so they can invest in the right solution for their particular application.

“If you take that first step, you’ll be sure to get the right equipment every time,” says Warren.

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