New York City Solves Floating Refuse Problems with a UMI Trash Skimmer

UMI TrashCat™ operating on the East River of New York City

UMI TrashCat™ operating on the East River of New York City


UMI TrashCat™ operating on Jamaica Bay, New York City

UMI TrashCat™ operating on Jamaica Bay, New York City

When New York City transfers solid waste to and from its refuse barges, some of the material unavoidably falls into the water. Not only does this create an unsavory condition for New York City, but wind and tidal conditions also cause some of this water-borne refuse to end up on the New Jersey shore line. New York City had sought a solution to this vexing problem for some time, but until recently, came up empty handed.

New York’s Fresh Kills landfill complex on Staten Island is the largest facility of its kind in the world. Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, this solid waste disposal facility receives upwards of 20,000 tons of solid waste daily.

The solid waste, which is loaded into 650-ton capacity refuse barges at nine marine transfer stations around New York City, is transported by barge across New York harbor and down the Arthur Kill, a major navigable waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey, to New York City’s marine unloading facility and landfill complex at Fresh Kills, Staten Island. The refuse is unloaded by four 10-cu yd clamshell crawler cranes onto Athey wagons (side-dumping tracked vehicles), and then transported to the landfill itself.

While seeking various solutions to resolving this problem, and in the interest of maintaining good-neighbor relations between the Big Apple and New Jersey, former New York City Department of Sanitation (DOS) Commissioner Norman Steisel happened upon some unique aquatic weed harvesting equipment being exhibited by Mud Cat™ (a Division of Ellicott International) at the American Public Works Association Equipment Show. During ensuing discussions with Mud Cat™, the concept of enlarging and modifying the weed harvester to pick up floating debris was born: what is now known as the “TrashCat™” — a marine trash skimmer boat. The builder, United Marine International (UMI), is now the world leader in this niche.

The Solution – Trash Skimmers

This craft combines the conveyor technology derived from aquatic weed harvesting equipment, manufactured by UMI, with a high performance tender boat. The boat not only has to function under year-round adverse weather and operating conditions, but has to be able to handle a variety of refuse and debris. New York’s unit was required to meet American Bureau of Shipping ABS) and U.S. Coast Guard standards for operating in navigable waters.

New York City awarded multimillion contract for the design and manufacture of five marine trash skimmers.

After extensive testing under stringent operating conditions at the landfill, the first of five trash skimmers was accepted and commissioned the “V.P. Whitfield,” named after the City’s Sanitation Department’s former Deputy Commissioner of Operations.

The Whitfield has sophisticated conveyor systems that sweep through the Fresh Kills’ tidal waters, pick up refuse, and convey it into an 8-ton capacity storage area within the 36-ft length by 14-1/2-ft width of the boat’s main hull. The storage area, equipped with specially designed drag conveyors, can be fully loaded by incrementally transferring the refuse along the full length of the craft. A rear off-loading conveyor can be hydraulically elevated to 12 ft above water level, thus enabling the operator to transfer the accumulated refuse into barges, from which it is then routinely processed.

The design of the trash skimmer allows it to work not only within the limits of the Fresh Kills landfill, but also equally well in the navigable channels of the Arthur Kill, and in and around the marine transfer stations located in New York City’s rivers and harbor. The boat is powered by two Caterpillar 3306T water-cooled diesel engines and, with its reserve power, has great maneuverability.

New York’s Sanitation Commissioner said that he believes that the New York City DOS has come up with an “effective means of collecting and controlling waterborne litter.”

New York’s vision to go forth with this new and unique concept provides a proven machine for use in the harbors and rivers of the world.

Reprinted from PUBLIC WORKS Magazine