Trash carts may not be as glamorous as diamonds, but cities and towns that decide to use them spend as much time and effort, if not more, than a groom who is ready to pop the question.
The color, size, style and price of a trash cart matters to the public, and if municipal officials are going to marry their waste customers to a particular cart, they want to make sure it's a good fit.
In addition to the standard features of gallon capacity and whether to choose brown or green, for example, officials consider durability and the manufacturer's warranty, and some are giving more thought to the molding process - injection or rotational - used to make the carts.
City officials in Akron, Ohio, followed their public works director's recommendation in late May when awarding a bid for 116,000 trash and recycling carts to Statesville, N.C.-based Toter Inc., a bid that at $6 million was almost $1 million higher than the lowest bid from Otto Environmental Systems LLC of Charlotte, N.C., and higher than Akron-based Myers Industries Inc. and Cascade Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich. Akron's 66,000 customers will start receiving the carts in August.
Paul Barnett, manager of the Akron Public Works Bureau, said he favored Toter's rotomolded carts because their failure rate was lower and the quality and aesthetic value of the carts stood out from the others.
``We've been studying this for about 2½ years, going to Waste Expos, talking to our counterparts and meeting with the makers of trucks and carts. Most people don't realize it, but when you look at the route of pickup, the most expensive thing on it is the trash container,'' Barnett said.
``The nightmare we kept hearing from people was the kind of [cart] failures they experienced. Anything that we have to send a crew out to address, whether it's a lid that is broken, a hole inside, a cracked body - any contact with the property owner is deemed a [cart] failure.
``We asked other cities, if they could do it all over, what would they do differently, and they said they would go with the rotational molded carts,'' Barnett said, noting that he had contacts with his counterparts in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio.
``It's my belief that rotational molded carts are more durable due to the inherent stresses that injection molding causes. Injection molded cart walls are actually thicker than rotational molded ones, but the rotational molded ones are more pliable in cold weather,'' he said.
``There needs to be a detailed study on these processes. It would make the research for communities much easier. There is nothing independent out there. I tend to ignore a company's literature. I'd rather clients tell me what kind of experience they've had, and I reached my decision after accumulating opinions from about 40 different people,'' Barnett said.
Injection and rotational molding have been used successfully to make refuse containers for decades.
``It's difficult to say one process is better than the other; one is better than the other for given applications,'' said Glenn Beall, past technical director for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based Association of Rotational Molders International.
``Rotational molding is excellent for smaller quantities where you need 150 carts or even 1,000 carts and for some reason want it your special color or unique in some other way; it's less costly then.
``Injection molding, where it tends to be best is where the volumes are larger. Waste Management [Inc.] was an old customer of mine, and I've seen their carts produced at Cascade. They have such a large volume and can afford the initial investment to get production going. The name of the game is that it's very expensive to get started in injection molding; the machines and molds are very expensive. Rotational molding is much less costly to get started,'' said Beall, who runs a plastics consulting firm in Libertyville, Ill.
``Rotational molding is a low-pressure process and produces parts which have a low level of molded-in stress. It's not true that they're stress-free,'' Beall said. ``Injection molding produces the highest amount of molded-in stress, but that doesn't mean they are weak; they certainly make good refuse containers. They may not be the toughest, but they're tough enough.''
When Naperville, Ill., a Chicago suburb with a population of 140,000, decided to offer trash carts on a voluntary basis to its 40,000 households in 2005, officials used a consultant to help draw up bid requirements, but a molding process was not specified. Otto, the low bidder, received the contract to supply 32-, 68- and 95-gallon carts that are forest green and injection molded.
``We wanted a high-quality product that was aesthetically suitable to the community's needs. I believe Toter bid, but they didn't end up having the lowest prices,'' said Tim Cardella, Naperville's strategic services supervisor.
Joe Jakubowski, liaison for Naperville's administrative analyst and the person who administers the contract with Otto, said the cart maker's 10-year warranty and low price were deciding factors in awarding the bid.
A 10-year guarantee on carts is an industry standard, but Akron's Barnett said that kind of warranty can cost a lot of money for carts that have a higher failure rate because city workers have to retrieve the cart and do maintenance on it.
Jim Pickett, sales vice president for Toter, said his firm has the lowest warranty claim rate of fewer than two carts per 1,000 annually.
``The story we give to Akron is the same we give to everyone. You're going to put a garbage cart and recycling cart in everybody's hand, and the city's reputation and quality of service is at stake,'' he said. ``We have a tremendous success record in Ohio, and we've been chosen in head-to-head evaluations with injection molded carts.''
Toter used to be a division of Rubbermaid, and Rubbermaid chose rotational molding because of its durability, he said.
``If you think about the trash can by your desk or a letter tray or the handset on your telephone, that's injection molded. It's high detail but not high-strength. If you think of kayaks, Little Tikes toys and big outdoor playground equipment, that's all rotational molded plastic. It's got to stand up to a lot of abuse or someone's going to get hurt. They're not decorative products, they're functional,'' Pickett said.
Steven Stradtman, Otto's chief executive officier, said injection molding is dominant for cart making because it is a better process for such a product.
Four U.S. injection molders manufacture about 4.5 million of the 7 million carts made annually for the industrial market. The rest of the carts come from rotational or blow molders, and of those, Toter is the largest rotomolder.
Otto, which has filed a protest with Akron over the bidding process, disputes the notion that rotational molded carts have a lower breakage rate.
``We have a container management business, so we're collecting data on all carts. Probably within 10 years we'll be able to present data on carts with the lowest cost of ownership,'' said Stradtman, who noted that Otto also does rotational molding outside the U.S. and for commercial carts.
``[Toter's] advertised failure rate is hard to dispute until you have the good fortune of managing their carts. We feel it's important to be factual, and once they see the true breakage rates, they'll probably change them.''
Bruce Parker, president of the Environmental Industry Associations, the parent group of the Waste Equipment Technology Association, said it would be a conflict of interest for him to comment on the trash cart manufacturing processes because his members include injection and rotational molders.
``It's not a trend toward one method or the other, it's just two different ways of doing it, the same as buying a garbage truck,'' Parker said.