The impeccably kept blue-and-white trucks and containers of Norfolk Disposal Services Limited, dot the landscape of the north shore of Lake Erie from Aylmer, north to Woodstock and Brantford and east to Caledonia in southern Ontario.
Headquartered in the centrally located small town of Waterford, Norfolk Disposal’s fleet of trucks and bins are ubiquitous in the area.
The business, which began with a single truck 50 years ago this spring, now boasts 47 vehicles and nearly 3,000 containers.
Founded by Louis Debono, Norfolk Disposal has become a major player in the waste management industry.
The Debono family moved to the Waterford area from Toronto to grow vegetables and cole crops. The farm operation included a single truck to transport crops to market during the evening hours. To get greater use from his truck, Louis decided to utilize it for garbage hauling. Rental drop-off containers were added later.
Timing of the fledgling business was propitious as a massive industrialization of the area (including an Ontario Hydro generating station, an oil refinery and a $2-billion steel plant) kick-started significant local residential and commercial growth.
Initially content to haul waste and rent out containers on an individual basis, commercial and industrial contracts soon began to come their way.
“We got some contracts from municipalities and built relationships with construction and demolition contractors,” says Louis Debono’s son Bernie, who is now general manager of the business. “It’s really taken off in the last seven or eight years.”
Business first blossomed when Louis purchased a three-acre site in downtown Waterford in 1973 and obtained a permit for a transfer station from the Ministry of Environment. In most municipalities waste management facilities are hidden away; not Norfolk Disposal’s. The transfer station is adjacent to a residential and commercial area of Waterford.
“We’re right in town,” says Bernie. “I can’t think of any other (waste business) of this size in a town.”
Public acceptance of the site is a testimony to Norfolk Disposal’s high standard of operations which include daily cleaning of the site and fencing.
“We have never been out of compliance in all our years of business,” Louis says.
The transfer station is equipped to handle electronic waste, wood, metal, concrete, paper, cardboard and blue box material. A shredding division was added in 2011 where confidential documents can be brought and stored in security before shredding.
The electronic waste is processed in Brantford where it’s separated for further processing as part of Ontario’s electronics stewardship program. Wood is separated and ground up to supply fuel to several greenhouses in Ontario, including the Debono’s family-owned greenhouse operation. The wood is also formed into pellets for wood stoves. Paper is sent to further recyclers to mill and re-use.
Three large concrete open bunkers sit at the back of the site. From one of them a loader operator packs general garbage into trailers to be taken to landfill. Another bunker has a loader for cardboard; the third bunker is set aside for public drop off, to be hand-sorted.
The addition of the transfer station and municipal curbside collection was a big boost to Norfolk Disposal’s residential waste collection.
“We have an excellent rapport with both Louis and Bernie,” says Eric D’Hondt, general manager of Norfolk County’s public works and environmental services department. “They provide excellent collection, disposal and environmental services.”
Several years ago, in expansion mode, Norfolk Disposal acquired two smaller waste operations, integrated their routes and equipment and broadened their coverage area. In the beginning, Norfolk Disposal out-sourced their containers. However, Louis says durability and weight became issues so they designed their own.
“Our containers stay out longer and last double to what they did,” he says.
On-going maintenance is stressed, including regular sand-blasting and painting. Norfolk Disposal employs four full-time mechanics and three welders to keep its vehicles and containers up to a high standard.
“Our trucks and containers are our advertising,” Louis says.
When he first began the business, the containers were white. But he soon realized it was difficult to keep them clean in appearance so he switched to blue.
“Blue’s my favourite colour,” Louis explains. (D’Hondt adds it probably isn’t a coincidence that Debono’s blue matches the colour of the blue box recycling program.)
Norfolk Disposal’s commitment to maintenance is reflected by the recent acquisition of an eight-acre site containing a 55,000 square foot former industrial building just a couple of blocks away from its transfer station. It will be devoted to the maintenance division, truck parking and eventually administration. The company also owns property outside of Waterford to store its nearly 3,000 containers.
Under Bernie’s guidance, Norfolk Disposal is always looking at new technologies. An example is Loadman onboard weighing systems. The Seattle-area based company has been developing tools for data collection since 1997.
Company president Richard Boyovich says his company’s onboard scales produce valuable real-time data with the driver merely touching a button.
For the last five years, Silver Top Supply Limited of London has supplied Norfolk Disposal with Loadman “Weigh in Motion” front-loader scales and Eastern camera systems, and recently adding a fifth wheel scales to a shunt truck and transfer trailers. This, coupled with a wall mounted remote scoreboard, allows the excavator operator to view the loading weight as it increases incrementally, optimizing loading efficiency and maximizing his legal trailer weights while loading at his transfer station.
“We value Bernie’s business and respect his strong business ethics,” says Mike Clarke, president of Silver Top Supply. “Our businesses share the belief that service is the key to retaining customer satisfaction.”
Shu-Pak Equipment Inc. of Cambridge is a long standing maker of side-loading garbage trucks, many of which are destined for Norfolk Disposal Services.
“The Shu-Pak brand has recognition all across North America,” says president David Tanner. “It’s something that’s an advantage for us.”
The company’s 50 employees manufacture between 60 and 100 side-loading vehicles annually at its 15,000 square foot facility. The advantage of side-loaders is that they can be operated by one driver from the right-hand side of the vehicle.
Shu-Pak manufacturing crews take a cab and set of eight wheels holding up a chassis. The passenger side of the cab is cut open and a second steering wheel and set of brake pedals installed. The chassis length is extended and a mechanical arm added to pick up waste containers.
Other improvements include new drive shafts, separate compartments to accept up to three waste streams, equipment to pack and crush trash, and valves and electronic controls to operate the functions.
Shu-Pak was the first company to develop a horizontally split body to accommodate two loading hoppers and separate storage
Safety is also a major emphasis and the company just recently launched a new policy to install side-guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists when the vehicle is making right turns at corners.
With such a large coverage area over four counties, fuel prices are always front-of-mind for Norfolk Disposal.
“It’s all about routing and scheduling,” Bernie says. “We try not to run too many empty miles.”
He states that data analysis generated by computer is a valuable tool, but adds, “A lot of it is in my head. I look at the overall picture.”
Currently the company is looking at powering its fleet with natural gas.
“It’s expensive to set up, but the returns are there if we put enough volume through the system,” says Bernie. “We’re exploring natural gas, but it’s a big number game and we have to do a lot of homework.”
He adds that they’re looking at several waste energy technologies and opportunities as landfill capacity increasingly becomes an issue.
So, even after 50 years of growth and innovation, Norfolk Disposal Services is not resting on its laurels.
“The industry is still in its infancy and growing,” Louis says. “I don’t think there’s a limit.”
Chris Thomas is a freelance writer in Simcoe, Ontario.