what can a garbage truck crush

What Can a Garbage Truck Crush?

Garbage trucks, the unsung heroes of waste management, play a vital role in keeping our cities clean. Equipped with hydraulic compactors, these trucks have the power to crush a wide range of materials, reducing their volume and optimizing the space within the truck. But what exactly can a garbage truck crush, and how does it accomplish this feat? Let’s dive into the world of garbage trucks and their crushing capabilities.

How Does a Garbage Truck Work?

At first glance, a garbage truck might seem like a straightforward machine, but it’s a sophisticated piece of equipment designed for efficiency. As the truck goes about its route, it collects various types of waste, including household trash, recyclables, and organic materials. The real magic happens in the back of the truck, where the hydraulic compactor comes into play.

Pressure and Force of a Garbage Truck Compactor

The hydraulic compactor is the heart of a garbage truck’s crushing ability. It exerts an impressive force, measuring around 16.2 megapascals (MPa), equivalent to nearly 160 atmospheres of pressure. To put it in perspective, a 33-foot dive underwater increases atmospheric pressure by 1 atmosphere per foot traveled. This force is harnessed to compress and crush the waste, significantly reducing its volume.

Items Easily Crushed by a Garbage Truck

Garbage trucks are designed to crush a variety of everyday items that end up in our waste. Items like old clothes, shoes, books, and even trash cans can be easily crushed by the compactor’s force. This efficient crushing process allows the truck to accommodate a larger amount of waste, optimizing collection routes and reducing the frequency of trips to disposal sites.

Exceptions: What a Garbage Truck Can’t Crush?

While garbage trucks possess impressive crushing power, there are limits to what they can crush. Materials like rocks or stones are too hard for the truck’s blades to break down. Additionally, the safety of the truck’s operators is paramount, so living things such as animals should never be placed in the truck’s compactor.

Crushing Cars and Larger Objects

One intriguing question often arises: Can a garbage truck crush a car? The answer is yes, but it depends on the size of the car. Smaller vehicles like sedans have a higher chance of being crushed, while larger SUVs might withstand the compactor’s force. In some instances, stories circulate about cars being inadvertently crushed by garbage trucks, demonstrating the truck’s formidable power.

Can Garbage Trucks Crush Wood?

Wood materials, such as furniture or plywood, pose an interesting challenge for garbage trucks. While the trucks are designed to compact different types of waste, wood may not always be easily crushed. Some garbage trucks can still compact wood due to its compressible nature, but it depends on factors like the type of compactor and the specific vehicle being used.

Strength of a Garbage Truck Compactor

The strength of a compactor truck varies based on its weight and design. Compactors can weigh anywhere from 12,000 to 22,000 pounds when fully loaded. The force they exert during compaction ranges from four to six tons. This impressive strength allows recyclables to be compacted multiple times, creating dense bales of material for efficient transportation.

Challenges in Recycling and Contamination

While garbage trucks and recycling facilities aim to manage waste effectively, challenges arise due to contamination. Contamination occurs when non-recyclable items are mixed with recyclables, reducing their value. The “National Sword” policy enforced by China further highlighted contamination issues, as stricter regulations required lower contamination rates in imported recyclables.

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The Fragile American Recycling System

Despite its strength, the American recycling system is surprisingly fragile. Misplaced items in recycling bins, a phenomenon known as wishcycling, can disrupt operations at recycling facilities. Wishcycling occurs when people place non-recyclable items in recycling bins with the hope that they might be recycled. This practice not only hampers recycling processes but also poses risks to workers and machinery.

Uncrushable Items and Their Impact

Certain items are notorious for causing issues in the recycling process. Wet cardboard and paper, as well as plastic bags, create problems by sticking to machines and causing jams. Textiles like clothing and nylon bags, as well as household tools, can wrap around machinery and impede operations. Electronic devices with lithium-ion batteries also pose safety risks due to potential fires.

Effects of Wishcycling

Wishcycling complicates the recycling process further. People often place items in recycling bins with good intentions, even though those items can’t be recycled. This wishful thinking results in contamination and slows down recycling operations. Recycling facilities frequently need to halt operations to remove tangled items, leading to increased costs and disruptions.

Handling Uncrushable Items

When garbage trucks encounter uncrushable items, such as large or rigid objects, the compaction process is temporarily halted. Workers manually remove these items to ensure smooth operation. Items like bulky furniture, large appliances, or irregularly shaped objects require special handling to prevent damage to equipment and maintain the efficiency of the waste collection process.

Innovation and Solutions

In response to the challenges posed by wishcycling and contamination, recycling companies are adopting innovative solutions. One such solution is RoadRunner’s clean-stream recycling approach. Instead of mixing various materials, clean-stream recycling separates different materials, ensuring they reach their respective recycling centers in optimal condition. This innovation aims to improve recycling practices and minimize the negative impacts of contamination.


Garbage trucks, armed with powerful compactors, play a critical role in waste management. Their ability to crush various materials optimizes waste collection and disposal, reducing the strain on disposal sites. However, responsible waste disposal practices are essential to ensure the system’s efficiency and longevity. By understanding what can and cannot be crushed by garbage trucks, individuals can contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Garbage trucks are designed to crush a wide range of materials, but there are limitations based on the truck’s design and the nature of the material.

If an uncrushable item is placed in a garbage truck, the compaction process may stop, and workers may need to manually remove the item before continuing.

Garbage trucks have the potential to crush cars, especially smaller vehicles, but it depends on the size and type of the car.

Rocks and stones are too hard for the blades of a garbage truck to break down, and attempting to crush them could damage the truck’s equipment.

Individuals can contribute by ensuring that only appropriate materials are placed in recycling and garbage bins, following recycling guidelines, and avoiding wishcycling.

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