Looking back at the history of waste trucks

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The development of mobile compaction vehicles for the collection of commercial and industrial waste goes back to the 1970s. Tim Byrne turns back the clock and takes a look at the evolution of RCVs along with the waste management companies that have used them through the decades.

In the 1970s the economy was buoyant and large quantities of waste needed collecting from industry and commerce. In this era, many smaller waste management companies existed and over the coming decades, they were acquired by the national waste management Plcs.

In this era there were two national waste management companies in existence: Biffa and Redland Purle. There were other regional waste management businesses such as Cleansing Service Group, Grundon, Hales Containers and Haul Waste as well as smaller waste management businesses such as Cartaways, Clugston Reclamation in the West Midlands and Scunthorpe and Waste Plan in the West Midlands.

Biffa’s vehicles

Biffa started using their first Paladin collection vehicles in the late 1970s when they purchased some Norba Hippo intermittent rear loaders with pencil bin hoist from Norba mounted on to Seddon Atkinson S34 4x2 chassis. 

In the early 1980s, they purchased a wide variety of trade waste collection vehicles from Dennis Eagle of Warwick. 

These had a variety of chassis and body sizes. In 1985, the company purchased Dennis Delta two axle chassis with Phoenix (1) Series bodies of 15 cubic metre capacity complete with a Zoeller high level trade lift. 

Biffa was a forward thinking company so all of the Paladin containers purchased for its commercial clients had a comb bar fitted to them so that they could be lifted by the comb bar on the Zoeller trade lift. 

This was instead of the traditional pencil bin lift or later the girdle clamp option which was available for emptying Paladin containers. 

The Zoeller high level trade lift could also empty wheeled bins from 120-360 litres and four wheeled containers of 660 and 1100 litre capacities. The comb bar fitted on the Paladin bins helped Biffa to streamline its collection fleet, so that the vehicles’ lifting equipment could be multifaceted and empty a wide range of trade waste containers. In 1993, Biffa replaced some of its commercial waste collection fleet. 

The company purchased a mixture of Scania P93 two, three and four axle chassis and Dennis Eagle mounted their Phoenix (1) 15, 18, 20, 23 and 28 cubic metre bodies to them. Biffa moved away from using the Zoeller high level trade lift and instead purchased Dennis Eagle’s Beta bar lift which was capable of emptying containers from 120-1280 litres capacity.

Biffa also purchased some Norba RL35/25 25 cubic metre capacity bodies with the L422 bin lift which were mounted on to a Scania P93 8X4 chassis for their municipal collection contract at Didcot in the period of 1993
and 1994. 

Cleanaway and wheeled containers

Cleanaway was formed in 1981 through the acquisition of Redland Purle by GKN Brambles from Australia. Cleanaway had its UK head office at the former Redland Purle head office at Rayleigh until a purpose-built head office opened in Brentwood in 1986.

The company consolidated the operations of Redland Purle into Cleanaway and all of the Redland Purle vehicles were repainted into the ‘Cleanaway’ blue livery.

The first Paladin waste collection service started in Cosham in the early 1980s. 

Cleanaway purchased a secondhand Dodge 500 Series 4x2 chassis complete with Jack Allen Colectomatic Mark 3 equipment and Paladin pencil bin lift. The vehicle was only used a few hours each day, while Cleanaway’s sales team built up the Paladin commercial waste collection service, selling the service to commercial businesses and light industry.

Eventually, the service became very profitable and Cleanaway rolled out the Paladin service to all its commercial waste collection depots across the UK. 

New Paladin vehicles were purchased in the early 1980s and were mounted to Leyland Freighter two axle chassis as well as Volvo F6 two axle chassis and Volvo F7 three axle chassis. The first new Paladin collection bodywork was supplied by David Mackrill Engineering from Bury St Edmunds. This equipment had a body capacity of 22 cubic metres and was equipped with a pencil bin lift for emptying 880 litre Paladin containers. 

Waste could also be loaded manually into the hopper of the collection vehicle if the collection was from a shop or an office and the waste was placed into plastic sacks. 

The first one purchased replaced the Dodge 500 Series 4x2 Jack Allen Colectomatic Mark 3 operated at the Cosham depot.

Norba also supplied the Norba Rhino, Norba ‘Ki12’ and Norba ‘R’ Series complete with pencil bin lift for paladin collection mounted on the above chassis for ‘Cleanaway’.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, more trade waste collection vehicles were purchased. These were mounted on to Seddon Atkinson 201 Series with crew cab in 4x2 configuration as well as Volvo FL7 and Mercedes SK
6x4 chassis. 

Skip Eaters

Skip Eaters were used to collect waste in larger volumes from industry and commerce. 

The first Skip Eater purchased by the private sector was a Jack Allen Big Bite of 25 yards (22 cubic metres) capacity. It was mounted on a Dodge 500 Series three axle chassis and operated by Waste Plan, a West Midlands waste disposal contractor. 

After the success of the first Jack Allen Big Bite, Waste Plan purchased two more. The second one was identical to the first, e.g. it was mounted on to a Dodge 500 Series 6x4 chassis; the third was a Jack Allen Big Bite body of 25 yards (22 cubic metres), but mounted on to a Leyland Bison (2) 6x4 chassis. 

Other contractors followed suit: in the North West the first Skip Eater was sold to E&A Metals of Wigan. This was a Big Bite of 25 cubic yards/22 cubic metres capacity with roll up arms but mounted on to a secondhand 1970 AEC Mammoth Major 6x4 chassis. 

Hargreaves Clearwaste, a member of the Coalite Group, also purchased their first Skip Eater from Jack Allen. This was a Big Bite with roll up type arms of 25 cubic yards/22 cubic metres capacity and was mounted on to a Foden S39 6x4 chassis. This truck operated from their Leeds depot.

Jack Allen eventually became the market leader in supplying Big Bite rear end loaders up until the late 1990s. In its era, the company supplied them to all the national waste management Plcs such as Browning Ferries Industries (BFI), Biffa, Redland Purle, 

A rugged product

There were other suppliers of Skip Eaters. Lacre of St Albans imported the Leach 2R rear end loader product from the States and named it the ‘Skip Eater’. It was a very rugged product, with a tough design and simple
to operate. 

The idea of mobile compaction using Skip Eaters boomed in the early 1980s with many smaller waste businesses all over the country using them. 

In this era, Jack Allen and Lacre were not the only suppliers of Skip Eaters. Scapa Engineering from Blackburn started to import the Garwood LP900 rear end loader from the States. This product had Dyna action swing link compaction and was very robust and solid and perfect for collecting large volumes of commercial and industrial waste. 

The Big Bite, Lacre ‘Skip Eater’ and Garwood LP900 rear end loader products had different benefits. 

The Big Bite used a swing link packing mechanism which reduced service and maintenance costs and, due to its enormous hopper, could eat all kinds of bulky waste, the Skip Eater used conventional slide blocks but was built to a heavy duty design.

The Garwood LP900 had Dyna action swing link compaction, compressing the waste to a high compaction rate with Scapa Engineering, the UK supplier as well as customers, stating that the 25 cubic yard/22 cubic metre body would compress a 10 tonne payload irrespective of the skip hoist fitted to the tailgate which would have added weight to the vehicles’ overall unladen weight.

In the mid 1980s Lacre were taken over by Powell Duffryn and the ‘Skip Eater’ product was integrated into their waste management portfolio. Shortly after the takeover, Powell Duffryn stopped selling the Leach ‘Skip Eater’ product, but instead imported the Schorling 2R industrial rear end loader from Germany for a short period.

In the 1980s, other refuse collection vehicle manufacturers started offering a range of Skip Eater equipment. 

David Mackrill Engineering from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk offered their ‘MACREL’ product, an anglicised version of the Haller X1 rear end loader product manufactured in the UK under licence from Haller of Stuttgart. 

Dennis Eagle started offering a variant of their Phoenix (1) domestic and light commercial waste product, but to a tougher specification for Skip Eater application. 

It was offered in 23 cubic metre capacity for mounting to a 6x4 chassis and 28 cubic metre capacities for mounting to an 8x4 30 tonne chassis. The product became popular with national waste management contractors such as Cleanaway and Shanks and McEwan (Southern).

Norba also offered a variety of rear end loader products, e.g. the Alligator of 25 cubic yard/22 cubic metre capacity in the late 70s, with equipment being sold to Biffa and Shanks and McEwan (Northern), and later on, their Norba Rhino, Ki12 and ‘R’ Series products as a Skip Eater option too. The company took on the distributorship of the Schorling 2R rear end loader product in the late 1980s and in 1993 dropped the Schorling product and became agents for the Leach 2R II rear end loader product for the UK market. 

The decision on what kind of Skip Eater equipment, its size and the kind of chassis configuration it was to be mounted on to, was down to either the national or regional fleet engineers if it was one of the national waste management Plcs, or a personal preference if it was a smaller waste management company.

Mergers and acquisitions in waste

The usage of mobile rear loading compaction fleets has led to an expansion of fleets of collection trucks in both the smaller and medium sized waste management businesses over the years; all fighting for a bigger market share of the market. 

This has led to their acquisition by the national waste management Plcs who wanted to retain and expand their market share. 

Browning Ferries Industries (BFI) acquired Adams Waste in Cheslyn Hay in Cannock, Dial A Skip in Birmingham, Thomas Graveson (Waste Disposal Division) in Carnforth and Drinkwater Sabey from the Attwood Group in the South East in 1995.

Biffa acquired all the Hoveringham Waste Control businesses as well as other companies such as Exclusive Cleansing from the Brengreen Group. 

This formed Biffa’s municipal division providing waste collection contracts to local authorities. Biffa also purchased E&A Metals of Wigan, Hargreaves Clearwaste, which had seven depots spread across Leeds, the north east, Scotland and the East Midlands; and Peter Andrew from Manchester.

After Cleanaway was formed in the UK by GKN Brambles after acquiring Redland Purle in 1981, it carried out many acquisitions, for example, the waste disposal division of Mix Concrete in 1984 which had a big Skip Eater fleet comprising Jack Allen Big Bites and Lacre Skip Eater equipment. 

In the same year, Cleanaway acquired Clugston Reclamation, which had a fleet of three Skip Eaters; a Jack Allen Big Bite and two David Mackrill ‘MACREL’ vehicles working from its Brierley Hill Depot in the West Midlands. Clugston Reclamation also had an operating centre in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. Over the following years, Cleanaway carried out many other acquisitions nationally.

Hales Containers, later known as Hales Waste Control, came into existence in 1898 and celebrated its centenary in 1998. 

The company carried out acquisitions of smaller waste management businesses over the years such as A1 Waste Services of St Neots in 1983, J C Waste in Warwick in 1987 and Tidiways in Coventry in 1988. 

All three companies acquired by Hales Containers operated Skip Eaters.

West Midlands-based Leigh Environmental acquired waste disposal business Cartaways in 1986, consolidating its fleet of Skip Eater Big Bites into its West Midlands operations. Cartaways had two depots, one in Stourbridge and the other in Birmingham. 

Other local acquisitions included Salop Waste Disposal in Shropshire, who operated David Mackrill MACREL Skip Eaters as well as Containerway in Hereford which operated a Lacre Skip Eater, when Leigh acquired the business in the early 1980s.

Leigh Environmental spread its wings, acquiring waste management companies across the country in the 1980s and mid 1990s. In the early 1980s, the company acquired Gibson Waste in Nottinghamshire which had a Jack Allen Big Bite Skip Eater of 25 cubic yards/22 cubic metres capacity mounted on a Dodge 500 Series 6x4 chassis.

Another company Leigh Environmental took over in the 1980s was Thomas Black in Sheffield. It was renamed as ‘Black Leigh’. 

Other acquisitions included Safeway Effluent Sludge Disposal in Stockport in the early 1980s as well as Ellis Davis from Mostyn in North Wales and in the South East, PGR Waste Management in Essex in the mid nineties.

Shanks and McEwan, originally from Scotland, formed their Southern Division by acquiring London Brick Landfill in the early 1980s. Shanks and Mc Ewan bought other waste management business over the 1980s and early 1990s era too.

UK Waste, a joint venture between Wessex Water and Waste Management from the USA formed their business in the UK in the early 1990s. In 1992, they acquired Wimpey Waste Management with depots in the North West, Scotland and the South East. 

UK Waste also acquired Waste Management in the same year, who were from Cheshire but had municipal collection operations on the Wirral as well as in Taunton and Deane, Wiltshire and Woking Borough Councils. 

This acquisition helped UK Waste to expand its private sector municipal division having already acquired Leigh Environmental’s municipal division known as ‘Leigh Clean’ in 1990, which comprised three municipal collection contracts West Oxfordshire, East Staffordshire and Leominster.

Health and Safety

The health and safety of mobile rear loading waste compaction vehicles has improved over the years and reduced accidents to operatives and members of the public. 

There have been many fatal accidents with mobile rear loading compaction equipment, with reports of tramps sleeping in waste containers being either cut in half or decapitated when emptied into the rear of a mobile rear loading compaction vehicle.

In 1995, the CE mark was introduced for all refuse collection vehicles manufactured in the European Union. The use of levers to lift the skip hoist and operate the packing mechanism were no longer allowed, unless they were used in the ‘hold to run’ procedure when operating the packing mechanism.

All mobile rear loading compaction equipment had the operating controls modified so that they would achieve a ‘dead man’ action if the buttons were not being operated e.g. to operate the bin lift, rear end loading skip hoist or to operate the packer blade. These modifications under the CE mark have helped reduce fatal injuries when using rear loading compaction equipment.

In conclusion, there have been many changes in the industry, ranging from the development of trade waste collection vehicles and Skip Eaters to improvements in safety systems making for a more efficient and safer business. 

Although the smaller waste collection companies have disappeared from the national scene, swallowed up by the nationals, they made a valuable contribution to the waste management industry and should not be forgotten.

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No comment of The Tyler Group/AAH, which entered into the waste industry by purchasing John Gooderson Ltd, Norfolk in 1985. This business then became Service Team which was purchased by Cleanaway in the 90's. John Gooderson Ltd was the largest Waste Collection Contractor to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the UK, up until 1985 and was the first company to operate a Local Authority Contract for waste collection in 1979 for Mid Bedfordshire District Council. Also UK Waste which aquired Waste Managment Ltd around 1991 ran a municiple collection contract at King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, its second Local Authority Contract.

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