Waste haulers are sending fleets of specialized, heavy-duty trash-hauling trucks and equipment to the hurricane-devastated areas of Texas and the Southeast, as they work overtime to help millions of individuals and businesses dig out and recover from the destruction.

As they work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the cleanup effort, the companies are using so-called grapple trucks and mammoth trash haulers that, in dry times, are used to “roll off” huge waste receptacles from construction sites.

Regular municipal trash carriers such as Waste Management also are combing the affected areas with temporarily expanded fleets of trucks to clear household and business waste that has piled up since the crippling storms.

Purchases and rentals for the heavy-duty equipment have soared since the two hurricanes as FEMA-engaged trash-hauling contractors have scrambled to ensure they have enough of the right equipment.

Among the most needed vehicles are heavy-duty grapple trucks that are equipped with cranes that grasp large objects, couches, refrigerators, chunks of drywall, downed trees and the like, and deposit them into a truck bed.

Waste haulers also are using roll-off trucks that employ a cable hoist capable of lifting large waste receptacles. Also in short supply are conventional rear-load and top-load trash haulers that are typical of municipal waste systems.

Dealers have quickly run out of the equipment.

Petersen Industries Inc., which manufactures grapple trucks and other specialized equipment, has 26 dealers across the United States. When Harvey hit Texas, those dealers had about 15 trucks in inventories nationwide, said Casey Hardee, president of Petersen, which is based in Lake Wales, Fla.

“Once the storm passed, pretty much every dealer that had anything in stock sold it,” Hardee said. “The dealers that didn’t have anything in stock – they were calling us, asking us if we had anything. Customers that have orders [logged] started calling, wanting to know if they could get their equipment faster.”

Petersen is selling to companies such as Waste Connections. The Toronto-based solid-waste hauling company expanded its fleet in Texas by as much as 30 percent, at least temporarily, to meet the extra demand to pick up storm debris as well as regular trash that had piled up, said Ron Mittlestaedt, chief executive.

It purchased a handful of new trucks from dealer inventories within a few days of the onset of Harvey. Waste Connections also rented additional pieces. And it repositioned some of its own vehicles from other parts of the country into Texas.

Before the hurricanes hit, Waste Management put considerable resources into repositioning its trucks in Houston and in south Florida that potentially stood in harm’s way. That included swarming its trucks to positions on top of Medley Landfill in the Miami area.

Miami-Dade County Waste Management trucks on top of Medley Landfill.

Miami-Dade County Waste Management trucks on top of Medley Landfill. (Photo: Waste Management)

After the storms passed, Waste Management redeployed its vehicles and personnel across Texas and in parts of Florida, adding as many as 40 drivers and the required trucks to busy routes in the Houston area and as many as 60 people in Florida, primarily in the Keys and the southwestern part of the state that sustained the biggest damage from Irma.

Available drivers and equipment streamed to Houston, mainly from elsewhere in Texas, and Waste Management moved assets primarily from northern Florida and Georgia into southern Florida. It didn’t have to do any purchasing of extra trucks.

“They’re busy; our landfills are busy,” John Morris, senior vice president of field operations for Houston-based Waste Management, told Trucks.com. “It’s probably a few months until all of the storm-related debris makes its way from the source to our landfills, but we’re keeping up with it.”

Because it’s not a FEMA contractor for heavy debris hauling, Waste Management’s extra work comes mainly from using its conventional trash haulers to catch up with all the regular residential garbage that piled up in the two hurricane zones before, during and after the storms. There’s also extra commercial debris as businesses gear back up.

“We’ve got large retail facilities such as grocery stores that we normally service, and now they’re asking us to do additional work as they restock the store or rip out material that may have been affected by flooding,” Morris said.

Prices for the type of equipment used in the cleanup effort are holding steady for now.

Petersen, for instance, typically makes any pricing changes only once a year, around April 1, after it gauges the effects of end-of-the-year price changes by its suppliers.

“That gives us about a month to figure out where our new pricing is going to be for the new year, settle into our new contracts, and get us time to evaluate it and put that into a pricing plan,” Hardee said.

But, he said, “Right now we don’t anticipate raising or changing any pricing” next spring.

Dealers that may be placing orders with Petersen in the coming weeks to refill their pipelines, post-hurricanes, are likely to take delivery of their new vehicles from Petersen in January and February, before any price change, Hardee said.

Such price inelasticity is what Waste Connections expects for any vehicles it may purchase any time soon. The company enjoys national-account pricing with all major truck and body manufacturers, Mittlestaedt said. “So our pricing can’t be adjusted; it’s locked in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happens to the inventory.”

But Mittlestaedt said smaller waste-hauling outfits that don’t have such pricing guarantees could face higher prices for specialized trucks in the months ahead.

Editor's note: Trucks.com managing editor Carly Schaffner contributed to this report.

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About The Author

Dale Buss

Dale Buss is a veteran financial journalist, author and editorial consultant. He also contributes to Forbes, Chief Executive Magazine, Brandchannel, Automotive News and many other publications. He can be found on Twitter: @DaleDBuss

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