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Rethinking Your Waste Management: Plastic vs. Steel Containers

Posted by Toter on October 22, 2019


Those who think that plastic front-end load containers are not for them should think again. Recent changes in design and manufacturing processes have made plastic FELs more durable than and cost-competitive with traditional steel models. When selecting an FEL, it is important to understand the major advantages of plastic over steel in terms of sustainability, ease of use and total cost of ownership.

While there are still some persistent misconceptions about plastic FELs, they have come a long way in a relatively short time on the market, with top brands engineered to have a service life of up to three times greater than that of steel, at roughly the same price point.

How do you know if plastic or steel is right for you, and which models and features work best? After consulting with countless haulers who have chosen to make the switch from steel to plastic, here is the following guidance on choosing the best FEL for your specific needs.

Steel Vs. Plastic: 8 Reasons to Choose Plastic

Steel FELs have been ever-present in the waste industry for many years. They are strong and sturdy, cost-conscious and can be relatively easily welded or repaired. On the other hand, these units are extremely heavy, difficult to maneuver, prone to rusting, require frequent repair/maintenance and can present safety and environmental concerns.

While steel products are preferred in high-capacity and heavy-weight applications, (typically greater than 4,000 lbs.), plastic FELs are a better choice in situations where there is/are:

Toter_2(The stackable design of plastic FELs makes shipping easy with better truckload efficiency.)

1. Exposure to Extreme Weather Conditions

Steel rusts and corrodes, but plastic does not. Plastic FELs will stand up to extreme weather and climate conditions, including rain and salt air, which can cause major problems with steel products and require frequent repair and replacement. In fact, plastic FELs are often the product of choice in coastal areas for this very reason.

2. Desire for Minimal Maintenance and Upkeep

Because plastic is not susceptible to rusting and corrosion, it requires nearly no maintenance or repair over its life cycle. This stands in stark contrast to steel products, which require frequent welding and replacement of component parts, costing haulers time and money and requiring them to take equipment out of service to complete needed repairs. Also, because they will not dent or ding, plastic FELs present a good option for frequent and tough use. The truth is that, if used in the right applications and not overloaded, plastic containers are virtually maintenance-free.

3. Regulatory Requirements are in Place

Many municipalities and states have laws related to eliminating water run-off from rusting units that could leach into the water table. Many others have mandatory organics collection requirements that make plastic FELs that will not corrode due to wet waste, which is a much more attractive option for haulers. While California leads the way in this area with steep penalties for run-off and regulations like AB 1826, which requires any facility that generates more than 4-cubic yards of trash per week to have organics diversion and collection, other areas have begun to follow suit. Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA), environmental and waste regulations all seem to be converging to make plastic a more attractive longer-term compliance option.

4. Quiet Operation is Important

Whether there is a noise ordinance in place or simply a desire to reduce noise in places like apartment complexes or residential areas, as well as schools, churches and hotels, plastic FELs are much quieter than steel FELs. When lifting, opening and closing a plastic FEL, it makes far less noise than the clanging and banging of metal forks on metal FEL pockets and slamming metal lids, especially during early morning pickups.

5. Space is Limited and Mobility is Important

Plastic FELs come in a variety of sizes that can fit into smaller spaces and are much lighter in weight. For example, a 3-cubic yard plastic bin weighs roughly 280 pounds, whereas a steel one weighs approximately 600, and is far easier to move to allow for placement in alleyways, garages and/or places where dumpsters cannot be easily accessed and require moving for collection.

6. Safety is Paramount

Despite efforts aimed at improving safety, the waste and recycling industry is ranked by the Bureau of Labor statistics as the fifth most dangerous occupation in the U.S. From rare fatalities and more serious accidents to extremely common slip and fall and repetitive stress injuries, haulers and businesses alike are well aware of the possibility and cost of workplace injuries related to loading and dumping waste. Lighter-weight, more easily maneuverable plastic FELs with hinged lids present a major opportunity for injury risk mitigation, reducing liability and costly workers compensation claims while improving employee satisfaction.

7. A Significant Amount of Organic or Wet Waste is Generated

Organics collection is growing very rapidly, but steel dumpsters are not designed to handle wet organic waste. This type of waste will cause them to wear quickly and rust out, requiring frequent repair and replacement. Rust- and maintenance-free plastic is a much better option for anything but the heaviest of organics loads.

8. Smell is a Concern

Unlike steel, which is difficult to clean, plastic containers can be easily hosed down and cleaned, reducing unpleasant odors as well as the risk of attracting pests, like rats and roaches.


Plastic FEL's are included on Toter's competitively solicited and publicly awarded cooperative contract, available through OMNIA Partners. For full contract documentation, please visit www.omniapartners.com/publicsector.

This blog was originally posted on Toter's blog here.

Topics: Facilities & Infrastructure, Fleet, Parks & Recreation