Replacing a major appliance can be expensive.
So when Thurston County’s only garbage compactor began failing at the Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey a few years ago, officials ordered repairs for it.
But eventually repairs for the $900,000 machine began approaching total replacement cost, said Scott Schimelfenig, operations manager at the Waste and Recovery Center.
County officials say it could take up to six months before a replacement compactor is built, installed and ready for operation.
Until then, the county will have to pay for more containers and more trips by truck and rail, and those translate into higher fees it will have to pay the contractor to haul its garbage away, county Manager Cliff Moore said.
The old compactor, which was installed in 1998 to process the county’s household and commercial garbage, was shut down in June. Its frame has been patched and welded several times; last spring, major components of the motor broke down and it was not cost effective to fix it, said Ramiro Chavez, director of Thurston County Public Works.
On Dec. 15, the Board of County Commissioners approved Thurston County Public Works’ plan to send out a request for proposals to replace the equipment.
The county has budgeted about $1.5 million in 2016 to buy a new compactor, according to a briefing presented to the commissioners. In the meantime, the county is sending noncompacted, or open top, garbage out of its transfer station.
“Under normal circumstances, 95 percent of the garbage processed at the transfer station is through the compactor,” Chavez said.
The old machine began full operation in May 2000, when the county stopped accepting garbage for its landfill and opened the transfer station, Schimelfenig said.
A compactor can create a bale for a container out of 29 to 30 tons of garbage in a manner of minutes, Schimelfenig said. The machine pushes bales through the end of a container, and once the door is closed, the truck is ready for the road.
Now workers are using an excavator to smash garbage and fill the 8-foot square by 28-foot-long containers through the top. Then, they have to stretch a tarp over those loads, which adds more time to the process.
Schimelfenig estimates that every five truckloads of uncompacted garbage would fit into four compacted bales.
“You’re putting more containers out on a daily basis, and it’s more containers on the road,” Schimelfenig said. “… It’s less efficient and more costly.”
Once it’s inside containers, Thurston County’s trash is trucked to the rail yard in Centralia, he said. From there it is taken by train to Roosevelt, loaded onto trucks and hauled to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County.
Thurston County’s old compactor was designed for 20 years, however an increase in garbage brought into the transfer station kept it busier than expected, Chavez said.
Schimelfenig said the construction boom before the Great Recession was a major contributor to waste.
The compactor’s life was based on tonnage value of 130,000 tons per year in 1998 to 190,000 tons per year by 2021, Chavez said.
“I think we hit that number around 2008,” said John Cox, site manager with LeMay, which contracts with the county to haul garbage off site. “It was a really good machine. We just wore it out.”