Crunching the waste, but what about the numbers?

They are tidy little space savers, efficient, and help reduce the carbon footprint of waste - so why are so many local authorities reluctant to invest in compactors and balers? Phil Mellows finds out

Who'd be a sales person? You've got a product you know is right for the market, is good for the environment and will even save your customers money in the long run. But can you get anyone to listen? That's the frustrating problem suppliers of compacting and baling equipment have been grappling with as they try to persuade local authorities that compacting waste is an efficient and cost-effective way of doing things.

Small-scale compactors can be sited where the waste is produced, replacing wheelie bins on housing estates, at shopping centres, workplaces and so on. Yet the experience of Tony Hegarty, operations manager at Tipperary-based Hennessy Engineering - which makes mini-compactors targeted at apartment blocks, offices, hotels and hospitals - is typical.

Be green and manage it on site
"A lot of waste could be compacted on site," he says. "There are a lot of very cost-effective methods and we want to make sure local authorities are aware of the potential savings and the advantages from an environment standpoint - cutting down on all those lorries on the streets for instance. Using compactors can reduce the carbon footprint of waste by 50%. And if you use electronic vehicles for collecting the waste containers, you can see a 60% reduction.

"We have contacted many local authorities in the UK about this, but made little progress. It's disappointing they don't seem to want to support something that's going to have a good effect on the environment. We aren't giving up yet. But there's a real need for a wake-up call."

There are signs that persistence can pay off, and that local authorities are beginning to stir - on the other side of the Irish sea. ACE Compaction Systems of Wexford developed its portable compactor more than three years ago. It holds 4.5 tonnes, the equivalent of about 400 black bags.

"We did it with the support of Enterprise Ireland - it was the way to go, considering the price of landfill," explains sales director Michael Devereux.

"The first model went into a local supermarket. It took a year to get it up to speed, for people to learn what it's for, but we proved that it works and by November of last year we had a dozen around Wexford, in Clare and Roscommon, plus eight or nine in caravan parks. Yet we were knocking on the doors of councils for two and a half years with no result. There were all kinds of obstacles - grey areas regarding permits, certificates of registration, different by-laws."

However councils are now starting to sit up and take notice - one of the unexpected impacts of recession. In Ireland people pay for their own waste disposal, and local authorities strapped for cash suddenly saw compactors as a money-making opportunity.

ACE machines are designed to be user-friendly with four different payment options. Anyone dropping in their black bag can put coins in a slot, use pre-paid tokens, or be billed later by keying in a PIN number or scanning a barcode.

Attractive payback period
If he can strike a deal, Devereux anticipates local authorities will run the compactors themselves and he estimates that at six euros per bag, it will take six months for each machine to pay for itself. "Councils see this as a way of making revenue - and they know it works," he says. "The machine is easy to use and the reaction from the public has been fantastic - it's the convenience. Compactors won't completely take over from wheelie bins, but there's a massive opportunity in Ireland and it's gaining momentum every week."

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

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