Compaction of recyclables prior to shipping, whether by front/rear load bins, stationary compactors or simple packing with available loaders, saves shipping costs.

County of Peterborough

Templates, Tools and Resources

Compactor Guide

Municipal depot operators using open top roll-off containers to store and transfer materials can compare the benefits and savings from installing compactors in this guide developed under CIF project 764.

Compactor Savings Estimate Tool

This excel spreadsheet can help calculate the potential cost savings from installing a compactor.

CIF Funded Projects: Compactors

Learn more about the benefits, features and operation of compactors below.


Reduced shipping

Compactors are being used increasingly by rural and/or northern communities as an effective means to save money on transportation costs to haul recyclables to a processing facility.  One of the key benefits of a compactor is the reduction in bin movements for recyclables compared with conventional roll-off bins. Since compactors enable bins to hold more weight, communities can reduce the number of bins hauled and the number of bins owned/maintained, resulting in lower costs and program savings. The table below examines annual data from municipalities with compactors.  In some cases, the data has been extrapolated to a 12 month period.

Change in the Number of Lifts Before and After Compactor Installation
# of lifts
# of lifts
% reduction
in lifts
to post-lifts
Mixed containers
Muskoka (phase 1) 49 14 71% 3.49:1
Muskoka (phase 2) 14 4 71% 3.42:1
McKeller Twp. 7 1 86% 7.00:1
Mixed Paper
Muskoka (phase 1) 36 10 73% 3.67:1
Muskoka (phase 2) 27 6 77% 4.32:1
McDougall Twp. 24 6 75% 4.00:1
McKeller Twp. 7 2 71% 3.50:1


The municipalities above experienced significant reductions in the number of lifts required to transport recyclables ranging from 71% to 86% producing annual program cost savings. In the District of Muskoka prior to installing compactors, the transfer stations/depots used 40 yd3 roll-off bins. The un-compacted bins only held an average of 1.28 tonnes of containers and 1.35 tonnes of mixed papers.

Reduced shipping results in environmental and traffic benefits. Reducing the number of bin hauls, especially in remotely located communities, results in fuel savings and greenhouse gas savings. In Peterborough County, staff noticed a reduction in the number of heavy trucks on County and Township roads due to to fewer compacted bins requiring shipping. Fewer heavy vehicles on the roads results in less impact on neighbouring residents, road maintenance and the environment.

Improved operations

One of the key benefits associated with a compactor is the reduction in haulage requirements and the staff time and resources required to manage bins containing loose recyclables.  Compactors help to improve operations at a transfer station or depot by:

Reducing the number of trucks accessing the site

Compaction reduces the number of heavy transport trucks accessing the transfer station/depot on a regular basis and the associated diverting of staff away from their intended job to direct site traffic and help the public.

“The transfer station is not interrupted by WSI trucks removing roll-off bins at a high frequency or when the bins are inconsistently filled.  We have definitely saved money due to the fewer trips for both fibres and containers” — staff at the Township of McKeller.

Freeing up space

Large bins can take up a lot of space on site if more than a couple are required to meet storage demands for recyclable materials. A compactor can reduce the number of bins taking up space at a transfer station/depot by a factor of 4 or more.  Some municipalities reported up to 20 additional bins on a site prior to the installation of compactors. In Peterborough County, prior to the installation of a compactor, one depot site had 14 fibre bins and 11 container bins with shipping of both materials occurring weekly, year round.  A second depot had 10 fibre bins and 10 container bins with weekly shipping from November to March and twice a week from April to October.

Reducing time to manage bins

In most situations, the staff time required to manage un-compacted storage bins and clean up blowing litter from the open tops, reduced the staff time available to help the public and perform other necessary staff duties. Carling Township experienced labour reductions due to the fact that there is no need to make room in the side loading bins which required the attendants to keep pushing material to the back of the bin.

Improving quality

Compactors eliminate exposure of recyclables to inclement weather that may impact the quality and thus, revenues received.  Some communities report noticeably less contamination in the recyclables after compactor installation, primarily due to more rigorous monitoring of compactor users by the attendants. Following installation of compactors in Muskoka, staff saw a reduction in contamination to just under 4%. The reduced contamination was attributed to three changes:

  • the compactors dedicated to recyclables were physically moved to a different location away from the garbage bins
  • users are now receiving better instructions as attendants have more time
  • recyclables were no longer placed in open top 40 yd3 bins, which could be incorrectly used for garbage, and have a “once there is some garbage visible, then others follow suit” effect.
Improving health and safety

The increased space on site created by the removal of extra bins can translate to reduced traffic congestion and potential safety issues associated with maneuvering heavy vehicles in tighter spaces. Limiting the use of bins with loose materials reduces opportunities for worker injury resulting from the need to manually compress the recyclables and clean litter.

“Safety is big and when open bins got full, then attendants needed to get a back hoe to try to compact the load. It was only a matter of time before the back hoe would hurt someone or a vehicle.  Now there is no need for the backhoe – Best thing the municipality every did.” — Municipality of McDougall

Improving site cleanliness

Open top bins can generate windblown loose material around the site or piling up around the bins.  Compactors eliminate the exposure of materials to wind and elements.

Cost savings

The ability to store more material in the same volume containers, thereby reducing the need for haulage and associated costs, is the primary advantage of compactors. Compared to loose 40 yd3 bins, properly installed compactors can double or triple net weights as shown in the table below.

Pre and Post Compaction Rates for 40 cubic yard Bins
Difference (tonnes) % Increase
Mixed containers
Muskoka (phase 1) 1.4 3.9 2.5 274%
Muskoka (phase 2) 1.2 3.3 2.1 269%
Average 1.3 3.6 2.3 272%
Mixed Paper
Muskoka (phase 1) 2.9 5.1 2.2 174%
Muskoka (phase 2) 1.3 4.4 3.1 342%
McDougall 0.9 4.0 3.1 444%
Average 1.7 4.5 2.8 264%


Among the sampled municipalities, compactors increased the weight of mixed containers per load by almost 2.75 times and mixed paper by 2.6 times.  This results in almost three times fewer loads shipped, compared with un-compacted bins. In Sioux Narrows, recycling increased from 16.5 tonnes in 2014 to 17.2 tonnes in 2016, while the number of lifts decreased from 42 lifts in 2014 to just six lifts in 2016. Prior to the installation of the compactors in Carling Township, the two transfer stations were serviced by three 40 yd3 side loading recycling containers which when full attained only 20 to 30% capacity due to the blocking of side openings.

Compactors have resulted in significant costs savings among the sampled municipalities. The savings come from the reduction in number of trips required and associated fuel/labour charges.

Change in Annual Haul Costs

Haulage costs

Haulage costs
post compactor

Cost savings ($) Cost savings (%)
Carling Twp. $69,773 $27,611 $42,162 60%
McKeller Twp. $27,776 $6,464 $21,312 77%
McMurrich/Monteith Twp. $14,948 $8,326 $6,622 44%
Sioux Narrows Twp. $41,681 $11,460 $30,221 73%


Compactors have resulted in cost savings ranging from almost 50% to over 75% from lift reductions alone. The average payback for four of the sampled municipalities was 4.4 years. In Peterborough County, the compactor bin saves approximately $5,000 in transport fees per year. After 6 years of service, the total savings was roughly $30,000. McDougall Township reduced number of lifts per month from 4 to 1, and reduced their fuel surcharge by 75%.


Power source

Compactors are typically powered using 240v three phase electrical power (hydro), but for those municipalities with transfer stations/depots located in remote locations, accessing mains hydro may not be feasible. In this situation, municipalities often operate compactors using solar power augmented by generator power.  The compactor is powered by a bank of batteries that are charged using solar panels and topped up as needed with a generator. Compactors cycle via an electrically-powered hydraulic pump driving a cylinder piston mechanism. Pumps running onsolar/battery power cycle more slowly than those on generator or mains electrical power. A compactor operating strictly on batteries can take up to five minutes to cycle, whereas a compactor on mains hydro power can take about a minute.

Solar and Backup Power Supply

Solar powered compactors usually require some type of backup power supply to supplement the batteries when solar input and/or temperatures are low (e.g. winter months in Ontario). Typically, this comes in one of three forms: connection to the hydro grid; a permanent attached generator or a portable generator taken to the site as required.  The table below compares municipal power solutions:

Municipality # Compactors Power Supply
Solar Generator Hydro
Peterborough County 2 x x
Muskoka District (phase 1) 2 x x
4 x x
Muskoka District (phase 2) 2 x x
4 x x
McDougall Township 1 x x
Carling Township 1 x x
1 x x
McKeller Township 2 x x
Sioux Narrows Township 2 x x
Mcmurrich/Monteith Township 2 x
Seguin Township 8 x

Solar Kits

Municipalities typically choose between two types of solar power installations:

  1. A simpler solar kit used to start the motor of the generator but does not operate the compactor directly
  2. A more robust solar installation used to operate the compactor and power the ram directly. This system requires more solar panel arrays and larger batteries to provide adequate power for the compactors.

Sioux Narrows Township – The compaction units have gasoline engines to supply the hydraulic power to cycle the ram and compact recycling materials. The compaction units also came equipped with solar backup kits, which are meant to provide the energy to prime and start the engines; as opposed to using a pull cord to fire up the engine.

Muskoka – Uses solar panels to provide power for the compactor as well as the scale house and lighting at its depot. While the solar panels charge the batteries in the summer, generators are needed to charge the batteries every day in the winter and a few times per week in the fall.

Some municipalities have configured larger centralized solar panel arrays and batteries to power more than one compactor. In this configuration, the compactors only run one at a time. Advantages of this type of configuration is that the batteries can be housed in one central heated storage unit and maintenance/cleaning of the panels becomes easier. Also, the panels can be situated in the optimum location on the site with respect to collection of solar energy, rather than attached directly to the compaction units.

Carling Township – Initially, the two compactors at its site operated independently using separate solar and hydraulic control panels, resulting in the compactors cycling too often during the summer months. The Township worked with the compactor company to combine the two solar panels into one unit feeding a single control panel and connected to 10 batteries. When cycling is required, a master switch transfers power to one compactor thus supplying it with the full power of the solar charge. When the batteries drop to a certain voltage the generator will start automatically and charge the batteries.

When selecting the solar power units, consider upsizing them (e.g. purchasing a unit 10% larger than the minimum required size). This may help offset diminished efficiency of the batteries over time and provide some buffer if power requirements unexpectedly increase. Also, as the light-weighting of recyclables continues, volumes of recyclables are expected to increase resulting in more compaction cycles.

Hydraulic pumps
Algonquin Highlands Township

Hydraulic pumps can be driven directly by gas/diesel engines or as part of a permanent generator installation as an alternative to solar power. Cold temperatures significantly affect hydraulic fluid performance and battery capacity so most solar installations require some fluid tank heat, low temperature hydraulic fluid and line insulation to function efficiently and avoid excessive user wait times in winter.


In general, most compactor models have a typical life span of twenty years and are similar in price range.  The price of a single compactor from six sampled municipalities ranged from $29,700 to $35,000, with an average price of about $31,500 (includes delivery, installation and training). The price of dedicated 40 yd3 bins ranged from $4,500 to $8,500 each with an average price of about $7,700. In phase 2, Muskoka District realized “the actual costs of the project were 79% of the budget. The departure from budgeted costs was due primarily to competitive tendering for the supply of the compactors and bins and project management was in-sourced by Muskoka”.

Municipalities should include a 10-15% contingency in their project budget to provide additional buffering for unexpected costs. In the case of Muskoka District, “while most of the budgeted costs were accurate (especially for the compactors and training), the project administration/approval budgeted costs was higher by almost 300% and the site works and power supply was higher by almost 20%.  The 15% project contingency allowance covered most of the unanticipated costs.”

Footprint Size

Some compactors are designed to reduce overall site footprint in smaller depots. Below is the Marathon TC-300T TANK (foreground) compared to a standard 3 yd3 compactor (e.g. RJ 325 Ramjet) showing the difference in footprint.

All compactors experience longer than reported cycle times once they surpass 1/3 bin capacity as a secondary pump is activated to achieve the rated compaction ratio. Spillback into the charge hopper increases as the bin approaches full, which also increases cycle time.

Both solar and electric compactors are affected by winter temperatures, which tend to elongate the cold cycle times, since hydraulic fluid takes time to heat up. (Source: The Municipality of Dysart et al. Environment and Conservation Committee. Agenda. May 4, 2015, Haliburton, Ontario)

Remote monitoring

Also called a smart system compactor, a remote monitoring system senses the internal operations of the compactor and calls or texts the municipality when the compactor is full or if there is a mechanical problem.

How it works

Monitoring systems provide another means for operators of isolated sites to manage their equipment without having to be physically on location which theoretically saves staff time. These systems include a wireless modem that transmits data about the compactor to the operator. The monitoring system can collect information such as the number of times the compactor has run (e.g. number of ram cycles), the ram pressure and other variables. Data is sent to the operator who decides whether a collection is required, or directly to the hauling contractor and thus shipments may be scheduled without having to attend the site.

Video cameras can also be installed for additional real time information. The photos below show how cameras work for monitoring the installation either on or off-site.

Video camera inside material receiving enclosure allows attendant to monitor contents of enclosure prior to running compaction cycles. 
Video footage from within the enclosure.

Examples of programs using remote monitoring systems on compactors include:

  • District of Muskoka
  • Town of Bancroft
  • Peterborough County
  • Township of Algonquin Highlands
  • Seguin Township

Some municipalities hire external companies to monitor the signals and send information back to the municipality. Monthly monitoring subscription fees apply (e.g. $25 per month, plus a one-time licensing fee of about $1,000).

Remote Monitor Benefits

Compactors typically come equipped with pressure sensors that provide the operator with an indication of the remaining capacity of the container. If available, on-site staff can routinely check to see if the compactor needs to be cycled and/or the container is full enough to require shipping. Many sites in Ontario are only staffed occasionally or entirely unstaffed. For these types of sites, automation and/or remote monitoring may be useful approaches.

Even staffed sites can benefit from the remote sensor system, allowing the attendant to spend more time on other duties especially if the compactor is located away from kiosks or the direct line of site from the normal staff working position.

The remote system can also advise when a problem exists with the equipment. For example, if an automated system is being used and something is blocking the optical sensors, staff are advised and can go to the site to fix the issue. This permits more efficient allocation of labour and avoids unnecessary travel costs (e.g. fuel, wear and tear on vehicle, staff time).

Before you buy

Municipalities need to work with a trusted compactor supplier/consultant to ensure that they purchase the best compactor for their needs.  Some questions to consider before purchasing a compactor include:

  • Is a stationary compactor a cost effective solution for your program? Use the Compactor Savings Estimate Tool to see if your program can achieve a payback in under 5 years.
  • What strength of compaction is required at the site, based on the type and quantity of recyclable material collected and MRF restrictions? What are some of the largest materials that the compactor will need to accommodate (e.g. cardboard boxes)?
  • What type and size of collection bins can the compactor use? How many are required at the site, based on the recommended type and number of compactors, monthly tonnage received and return trip time to the MRF?
  • What are the spacing and structural requirements for the compactor, collection bins and spare bins?
  • What is the best configuration of bins and compactors, based on the existing and/or possible layout of the site and flow of traffic? Can the public and collection vehicles easily and safely access the compaction system?
  • What are the power requirements for the compactor, based on the power configuration and availability at the site? What alternative power system is proposed to augment a solar powered system? Is a fossil fuel hydraulic pump preferable?
  • Is front end loader service preferable/available in your area? If you have a curbside collection system can trucks/bins be modified for pickup at depots? (See “Knock Off the Roll Offs” and Project #858 )
  • Is remote monitoring and automation required or can a low-tech system/procedure be set up on-site to monitor? How will you make sure that only full bins are hauled?

The following table provides a sample of compactors in use by Ontario municipalities including key features and cycle times.

Model Features Power Source Locations

RJ 225 Ramjet  Stationary

RJ 225 VL Stationary Compactors

2 yd3 capacity holding hopper

Hydro or Solar

10 hp. motor

District of Muskoka

Carling Twp.

McKellar Twp.

Peterborough County

RJ 225 Greenbilt Solar Powered Compactors

Slower cycle time

2 yd3 capacity holding hopper

Solar only

5 hp. motor

Municipality of Whitestone
Marathon TC-220 Trash Commander Tank Stationary Compactors

Uses 15% less space than other compactors of similar capacity

2 yd3 capacity holding hopper

Hydro or Solar

15 hp. motor

District of Muskoka

Sioux Narrows Twp.

Marathon TC-300 compactors

Shortest 3-cy. compactor in the industry

Uses 15% less space than other compactors of similar capacity.

3 yd3 capacity holding hopper

Used in applications where space is limited and a large clear-top opening is required

Hydro only

can be used with a generator or mains (not solar)

10 hp. motor

Seguin Township
RJ-275 Ramjet  Stationary 2.5 yd3 capacity holding hopper

Hydro or Solar

10 hp. motor

McDougall Twp.

Installation, Operations and Maintenance


Careful planning of the location and set up of the compactor can minimize potential construction/operation challenges later.  Some key set up considerations follow:

  • Location. Compactors must be installed to optimize access by roll-off trucks, landscaping, snow removal, maintenance vehicles etc. Additionally, equipment should be installed to minimize interaction between residential and heavy vehicles and provide safe access and good ergonomics for users. Location within the site also affects the cost to run hydro lines, poles and lights.
  • Site Grade. Compactors need a flat surface to eliminate possible sliding and tipping during high winds and bin movements.
  • Concrete Pads. Concrete pads are required to support the weight of the compactor and should be at grade level on the user side to prevent creating a trip hazard.
After constructing the concrete pad, Peterborough County realized that a curb was raised about 6” which was deemed to be a trip hazard. County staff required an asphalt ‘ramp’ to be installed on both sides of the pad.
Since the site installation used a raised saw tooth wall, the Municipality of McDougal had to elevate the control station by 8’ and had to raise the intake hopper for easy public access. Although the equipment works well it is inconvenient for staff to service.
Three phase power supplies were provided to sites in Seguin Township by Hydro One. This eliminated the single phase to 3 phase inverter used on the hydraulic power pack. These are sensitive to voltage spikes and can burn out ($1500 replacement cost). Hydraulic units are 10hp. and 3 phase power is more suited to this horsepower and are recommended if possible.
Carling Township constructed a little building to protect the control panel from the elements. Other municipalities such as McKeller Township and Whitestone Township have adopted this approach.
  • Railings. If the compactor is located below grade, railings may be required to guard against user falls.
  • Power Supply. The compactor will need a power supply of sufficient capacity. For units connected directly to the hydro grid, a three phase 230v connection is preferred. A single phase connection is possible, but it will be more expensive to install and operate, as it is less efficient than three phase. If solar panels are used to generate power and the hydro grid is used as a supplemental power supply, then a single phase 120v connection should be adequate.
  • Protecting the Control Panel and Batteries. It is important to isolate the control panel and batteries from inclement weather and residential users. Weather exposure can cause problems with control panels and low temperatures can reduce battery efficiency resulting in costly replacements. Providing an insulated and heated storage unit for the control panel and batteries is recommended.

Peterborough County – “Our electrical system has been problematic due to exposure to weather. Starter and other electrical control buttons stop working or send wrong information if they get wet. Electrical repair has been the greatest maintenance cost. These problems were resolved by installing a protective plastic box over the control panel to protect it. The box was installed by the electrician and purchased at an electrical supplier. These outdoor electrical boxes are common and easy to find.”

Signage and education

Providing good signage and education helps users feel comfortable placing their recyclables in the compactor hopper and reduces contamination.  Attendants play an important role in educating users about the benefits of the compactor and how to safely place their materials into it. Taking the time to develop effective signage will not only boost participation in the recycling program but reduce contamination.

Peterborough County – “Educating the depot users about the benefits of the compactor is important e.g. fewer trucks on site, fewer bins on site, and therefore fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less stress on Township and County roads, less contamination in the recycling and the potential for everyone to save money”.

What Sign Works Best?

The University Health Network used its website to determine which of two signs were more effective by asking people to vote on their preferred signage for a mixed recycling program being tested at Princess Margaret Hospital.  The summary of the poll was revealed as follows:

Option A

Option B

According to the poll, 81% of voters prefer Option B.

Why does B work?

The recyclable materials are grouped together, which makes it easier to read and understand at a glance. Common examples of the material categories are provided together rather than spread out on the page as in Option A.

What doesn’t work?

The organics section doesn’t stand out from the garbage section and is even encircled by the grey border used for the garbage.  The organics section would stand out better if the background was green and it had a heading and icon similar to the mixed recycling and garbage.  Placing the organics section at the top and giving it equal space as the garbage would better emphasize its importance.

For more information on developing effective signage, refer to the CIF Center of Excellence Promotion and Education section.


Attendants are a key part of any well-functioning depot and provide an added safety measure for all equipment. It is critical to have staff properly trained by the compactor supplier on how to safely use and maintain the equipment. A best practice is for municipalities to build this requirement into their tender. Training can also help the staff ensure optimal compaction of materials and to know when to schedule hauling.

Attendants and good simple signage can help ensure that the public understands how to access the compactor safely and place their recyclables in the hopper correctly. As an added safety measure, hopper doors should include a latch that keeps them open during operating hours, as opening the steel door may be difficult for some users, and can prevent doors from accidently swinging closed and/or hitting the user. A safety interlock prevents ram operation with any doors open. At McDougall and Carling Township, there is an attendant at the landfill who controls how the compactor hoppers are used by the public and where they can access them.

Seguin Township doesn’t allow the pressure gauge to go over 1800 psi. At 1700 psi, staff notify the hauler that they are getting close to needing a pick up. Staff can correlate the pressure reading on the compactor with weigh bills at the MRF and work with the MRF to determine an optimum pressure that maximizes compaction but still enables the MRF to process materials without over-compaction issues.

At McKeller Township, the compression pressure gauges on the compactors allow staff to closely monitor the amount of material in the bins and allows recycling lifts to be scheduled accordingly in a precise manner.

Encourage residents to break down oversize cardboard prior to depositing into the hopper to decrease wait times and extra compactor cycles.

Operators will need to identify a suitable frequency of when to run the compactor. If the compactor is not operated often enough the hopper can become over-filled which will require more time to cycle and result in a higher risk of the compactor jamming plus longer user wait times. Over-cycling the compactor results in unnecessary maintenance and utility costs.


Regular compactor, controls and bin maintenance should be considered part of normal operations and included in annual operating budgets. Some municipalities have opted to use in-house staff to provide basic maintenance including greasing and cleaning but bring in specialized companies to change oil and inspect the compactor controls, safety features and mechanical components. McDougall Township hires a company to come three times/year to do maintenance including, cleaning, checking the hydraulic pump and pressure gauge to ensure it’s effective and checking the timing on the cycles. As a result, the Township has never experienced a failure of the compactor. Seguin Township and Carling Township staff recommend regular preventative maintenance twice a year (spring and fall).