June 7

The Four Types of Garbage Trucks We See Today


Last Updated on July 7, 2022

There are four types of garbage trucks we see today. Each one collects and transports solid waste to a treatment facility, such as a landfill, recycling center, or transfer station, depending on the waste and recycling programs available to the municipality.

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Although wagons have been used for centuries to collect garbage from urban areas, none of them were self-propelled until 1897. That’s when Chiswick District Council, a local government district in the county of Middlesex, England (1858-1927), purchased a steam motor tip-car from the Thorneycroft Steam Wagon and Carriage Company. The goal of the purchase was to collect “dust and house refuse”. 

More than forty years later in 1938, Garwood Industries, based out of Detroit, Michigan, revolutionized the industry by releasing a garbage truck equipped with a hydraulic press that compacted material. The invention proved to double the capacity of the trucks. Now, solid waste collection companies could transport the same amount of waste with half as many trips. 

Today, this modern garbage truck has evolved into four different types

  • Rear loader
  • Front loader
  • Side loader
  • Roll on/roll off

Rear Loaders

Rear loader garbage trucks were the first type invented and today’s most popular. Early versions of the rear loader had high side walls and a gate at the rear. They were loaded from the rear through the gate until the truck was too full to open the gate. At which point, waste would have to be lifted above shoulder height to toss over the truck’s walls. Eventually, a tipping mechanism allowed the waste to be dumped out rather than manually removed. 

Rear loader trucks continue to remain popular, because they offer high pressure compaction, good sealing, and offer easy, safe operation. Their versatility makes them a good choice for both residential and commercial garbage collection. Rear loader truck sizes range from 6 to 35 cubic yards with the largest ones being able to haul up to 18 tons (800-850 homes). 

types of garbage trucks - rear loader infographic

Front Loaders

The front loader garbage truck uses two “arms” or “forks”, which protrude from the front of the vehicle. Each arm slides through a slot on opposite sides of a garbage bin. The arms rotate up, lifting the bin over the truck and dumping its contents into the hopper of the truck. The arms lower and the compactor in the truck’s hopper compacts the material. 

The company Dempster Brothers, Inc. first patented the invention in 1937. However, the company didn’t make their truck—the Dempster Dumpmaster—commercially available until 1955. After they did, sales didn’t really kick off until the 1970’s. 

Initially, workers would manually fill the bins, which were at ground level and had lower wall height. Now, bins stay on the properties of the customer and the customers fill the bins. 

Since individual residences are unlikely to produce a bin of garbage each week, these trucks usually serve commercial clients. 

Most front loaders can lift containers weighing up to 8000 pounds and have capacities of up to 40 cubic yards.

types of garbage trucks - front loader infographic

Side Loaders

There are two types of side loaders—manual and automatic. Manual side loaders are similar to rear loaders except the waste is deposited into the truck via the side of the truck. Automated side loaders (ASLs) come with one arm, which is far more capable than the arms of a front loader. The arm can swing out, extend, lower, grab, and the reverse of each of those functions. At the end of the arm is a grapple/pincher for picking up a garbage can in a similar fashion to how a human picks up a cup.  

The arm is operated by the truck driver or another employee, and can be operated from either inside the truck, from the side of the truck, or by remote control. 

The first ASL was used in the city of Scottsdale, Arizona in 1969. The machine could collect 300-gallon containers in 30-second cycles and the operator never had to leave the cab to operate the arm.

Needing only one worker per truck saves on labor by 50 percent and reduces the risk of injury. 

These trucks can collect 28 cubic yards (approximately 30,000 pounds) of compacted garbage per trip, which translates into nearly 1,500 homes.

types of garbage trucks - side loader infographic

Roll on/Roll offs

A roll on/roll off garbage truck appears similar to a truck without a body. There’s only the cab and chassis. However, this chassis is equipped with a roller chassis onto which a dumpster is loaded and unloaded. 

For this reason, they’re sometimes called dumpster trucks. They’re also called RoRo trucks (Roll on Roll off).

This is an efficient method for the mass removal of waste, so they’re popular on demolition and construction sites. A RoRo shows up with an empty dumpster and unloads it, then a contractor fills the dumpster (up to 10 tons in capacity). The full dumpster is loaded onto the truck’s chassis and disposed. Then the process repeats.

types of garbage trucks - RoRo infographic

Garbage Trucks in Retrospect

These everyday smelly behemoths have come a long way since their creation. We rely on garbage trucks to do the unpleasant and tedious work we as everyday citizens would rather not – taking discarded materials to the landfill.

Though, maybe you aren’t the average everyday citizen, and instead are a company manager or employee for a business. If so, and you’re in need of one of these trucks, your next stop should be the Municibid catalog where we feature a number of different garbage trucks and other heavy pieces of equipment. Find one for yourself today.


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