PORTLAND, Indiana – Google ‘garbage truck accidents’ and the results will make for grim reading. With an increasing number of waste and recycling vehicles on our roads, the dangers to workers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are clear.
The drive towards commercial and household recycling is just one factor in the global effort to reverse the impact of climate change. But it’s a crucial one, with recent figures showing that every year recycling saves 700 million tons in world CO2 emissions.
The recycling industry has become a thriving sector; around 1.6 million people worldwide are employed in the business of collecting, sorting, and processing recyclable waste, and the global waste management market size is expected to reach a staggering US$484.9 billion by 2025.
In many countries, including across Europe and North America, householders are increasingly encouraged to sort waste into separate bins to be left on the curbside for collection. This method of collection is convenient for householders and encourages high uptake – in England, for example, latest figures show the household waste recycling rate has risen to 45.2 percent, compared to just 11 percent in 2000.
But while the increase in household recycling is essentially a good news story, this development is not without its challenges. Where once we may have seen one type of refuse truck collecting one type of bin from our neighborhoods, now there can be multiple vehicle types performing different waste and recycling functions. Glass, paper, green waste and non-recyclable household garbage – in various receptacles including carts, boxes and sacks – can create a confusing picture and ultimately a lethal danger on our streets.
‘Unprecedented uptick in fatalities’
Last year the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), which represents waste and recycling professionals in the US and Canada, issued an urgent warning following what it described as an ‘unprecedented uptick in fatalities’ among its waste truck operators.
In the first 22 days of January 2019 alone, there were 17 industry-related deaths in the US and Canada, most of which were vehicle-related. While there is no single common cause of fatalities in this industry, many deaths occur when distracted motorists collide with collectors.
Pedestrians, cyclists and other road users are also vulnerable when in close proximity to waste trucks. Collisions can occur anywhere from narrow city streets to rural lanes, often due to the problem of blind spots around garbage and recycling trucks.
It’s clear that safety in the waste and recycling industry – both on public roads and worksites – is a key concern globally. There is no single answer to the problem, however a combination of rigorous staff training, regular safety checks, technological upgrades to vehicles and public education will help to tackle the issue.
Eliminating blind spots – a technological solution
One sure way to enhance safety is to fit waste vehicles with the latest life-saving technology. There are a range of impressive safety devices on the market today, most of which can be added on as upgrades to an existing fleet.
Commercial vehicle safety systems can alert both drivers, waste company workers and indeed anyone around a vehicle of an imminent danger. These include audible warning alarms as well as sophisticated cameras that give the driver a 360-degree view around their vehicle in one single in-cab image. Radar obstacle detection provides an extra level of protection, especially when dust, darkness or harsh weather conditions lead to reduced visibility.
The waste and recycling industry is a complex sector with little uniformity from city to city, let alone state to state or country to country. Until universal standards are in place, it’s up to local waste professionals to do all they can to minimize dangers for drivers, pedestrians and every vulnerable road user.