Robo-arm ready to clean up city streets

Bonnie Belec
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Mount Pearl’s automated trucks make curbside pickup easier

The mechanical arm, which has a reach of 10 feet, extends and grasps a bin containing up to six bags of refuse. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

It won’t be much longer before Dean Butler never has to handle another dirty, stinky, possibly dangerous bag of garbage again, unless it’s his own.

Now that the City of Mount Pearl is extending its automated garbage project citywide (starting Tuesday), operators like Butler won’t be exposed to sharp objects, hazardous materials or the injuries associated with the job, say project officials.

Gerry Antle, director of the city’s infrastructure and public works department, said while he doesn’t have official stats, garbage collection is one of the areas of city work that generates a lot of injury claims.

He said employees will be safer with the automated system. A mechanical arm on the side of the garbage truck lifts specialized covered carts filled with bags of household waste and then returns them to the curb.

Butler has been an operator for about two years with Mount Pearl and was one of the first people to be trained using the mechanical arm and cart tipper, installed on the left-hand side of the truck designed for one-way streets.

“It’s great on a day like this,” said the 48-year-old as rain pelted off the cab of his truck.

Inside was warm and dry and Eric Clapton music played in the background as Butler operated the arm’s joysticks like a kid glued to a video game.

On this day he still had to pick up bags of garbage, but after Tuesday, when the remaining 9,400 carts are rolled out, flinging bags will be a thing of the past.

“The best thing about these cans: it protects us from the glass in some bags, and boards with nails sticking out of it,” said Butler.

“In the summer time when it is hot, you got maggots crawling over the bags and you got to physically pick up the bags. With this there is none of that. It’s more sanitary for us and easier on the body.”

Eric Arsenault, works superintendent with the infrastructure and public works department, said the $1.3-million project started about four months ago in two areas of the city.

 “We haven’t had any problems. It’s win-win — cleaner, neater, a lot easier on operators, and the alternative is mounds of garbage covered in blankets and nets with a mess sometimes strewn around the city by animals,” said Arsenault.

The most negative feedback he’s received is from residents who are concerned about how it will work in the winter.

On Friday, as this Telegram reporter chased the truck around, one resident who has been part of the project since the beginning said he shares the same concerns about Newfoundland winters.

“We think it’s great,” said Leo May of Mortimer Drive.

“In the beginning we thought it was going to be bit of a problem, mainly in the winter, but the more I look at it I don’t think so now,” said May as he wheeled his cart from the driveway.

“We get lots of snow, but I think it will work out. There’s going to be some obstacles in the snow, but there always is, even with the regular bags,” he sad.

Wayne Rideout lives on Graham Place and has been using the new cart system since it started. He thinks it’s ideal.

“For us, there’s only two of us in the house and quite often we don’t have to put it out every week with a larger bucket. It’s very convenient and easy to handle. There’s no mess on the street, no nets to worry about. It’s been good,” he said.

Arsenault said every household gets one 95-gallon cart which holds five or six bags of garbage. There is a $20 annual fee.

The carts — and there will be about 9,800 of them on the streets of Mount Pearl in the coming days — cost $100 each. They can withstand 97-kilometre-an-hour winds and each one has an electronic chip which enables the city to track it and determine if and when it has been dumped.  

He said there are about 460 in circulation now and the rest of them are on 20 tractor-trailers destined for the city.

Butler said people are anxious to become part of the new garbage pickup system.

“They’re asking me all the time, ‘When am I getting my can?’ One man said to me it was the best money the city ever spent,” he said.

 During last week’s council meeting, Coun. John Walsh, chairman of the infrastructure and public works committee, said a public campaign is underway to let people know what to do. He said garbage collection day remains the same, garbage still has to be bagged before it goes in the cart and it has to be put at curbside, just as before.

The only difference is the cart has to be placed on a flat area, the arrows on it must point towards the street and room must be left around the cart for it to be picked up properly.

Walsh also suggested people use a permanent marker to print their address on the inside of the cover.

For further information go to the city’s website



Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Graham Place

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Recent comments

  • Joe
    October 07, 2012 - 15:52

    This takes the Man right out of

  • a business man
    October 06, 2012 - 11:34

    I think this is a good thing. Since the job of garbage collectors just got easier, we should pay them less or find people who will work for less. Simply put, the worker is doing less, and thus should earn less. When this technology has been rolled out in other cities, the result is that less garbage men were needed. Hopefully, the same will happen in Mount Pearl. Using technology to replace workers is always a good thing!

  • city girl
    October 06, 2012 - 10:35

    This works great if you've got a place to store/hide those monster containers for the other 6 days of the week! Not everyone has that luxury.....I think a new eyesore is being created here!

  • Paul
    October 06, 2012 - 09:41

    it seems like a good idea but is it really going to work out because you have teenagers and etc out in the night time destroying stuff and they be tipping these all over the streets giving motorists a safety hazzard let alone the public safety that will be voilated at the time if this happen, it seems like the city of st johns and city of mount pearl has been looking what they have in the united states and yes it is good they are moving up in the technology and giving the workers they full safety, but is this going to work out thats the question ? is the teenagers going to not destroy the bins ? will there be a safety hazzard or any other hazard or anything at all that may go wrong putting these bins on the crub side ? there is alot of more questions but not enough answers that was only a few i just said, its not just the workers safety you need to look into the future and see if it will be worth it and is the general public safe with no issues

  • Political Watcher
    October 06, 2012 - 09:18

    I am still waiting for an answer to a couple of key questions I have: As these carts are mandated and officially owned by the City, I would like an answer to the following. In the event the container is blown and hits a neighbours vehicle or one is blown and hits my vehicle, who is responsible? If my container is stolen, who pays the replacement? I would like Walsh, Simms, High Five Tessier or any other to please provide an answer.

  • it didnt work for st johns years ago
    October 06, 2012 - 08:33

    this plan was tried years ago in St. JOhn's and it didn't work. THe containers do not hold that much garbage and are extremely awkward and heavy to move. This winter I will be in the final trimester of my pregnancy with a husband who travels for work. I KNOW now that I will be unable to maneuver this monstrosity from our backyard (or side of the house for that matter) down to the curb on garbage day. These should be reconsidered. Obviously council did not look into why this idea was scrapped by the city of St. JOhns around maybe 10 years ago. Well done Simms well Done :(

  • Denise
    October 06, 2012 - 07:52

    Woohoo! Mount Pearl, first again. Can't wait. I think nets and dirty old blankets are disgusting and an eye sore. Thanks Mount Pearl.