With all things green riding a wave of popularity, a new garbage hauler specializing in small "green" trucks is hoping to cash in on the trend.

GarbageMan, a residential hauler new to Minnesota, is gaining customers in the competitive suburban market by using small, quiet trucks that weigh in at 18,000 pounds -- less than a third of the traditional 60,000-pound garbage truck.

"Those big garbage trucks are good for the garbage companies but not good for your neighborhood," GarbageMan President Andrew Sorensen said. "Some neighbors just want the little truck. It is about quality of life."

After a year and a half in business, the company, based in Hopkins, has about 7,000 customers in Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Crystal, Plymouth, New Hope, Minnetonka, Edina and Roseville. Sorensen's goal is to sign up 20,000 more customers this year.

Barb Gerdes of Maple Grove switched to GarbageMan a year and a half ago when the service started in her community. "I like that they were going to be a green company," Gerdes said.

"I also liked their little trucks. That just made sense to me," she added.

Garbage trucks from five companies trundle down her street each week.

"I think they are very hard on your street," Gerdes said. "They are heavy with all that garbage in them. Every time [streets] have to be repaved, it costs us money."

The small truck is part of a larger green business scheme that GarbageMan hopes to deliver within a year. The goal is to encourage people to reduce waste by charging customers by the weight of the garbage they set out at the curb, Sorensen said.

To accomplish that, trucks will be equipped with scales that talk to onboard computers. The scales will record the weight, and the computer will transfer the reading to the customer's bill.

If people can lower their costs by throwing away less, they will recycle more, Sorensen said.

"It's an old industry that really hasn't changed a lot," he said. "I thought there was so much opportunity for doing something differently."

Eventually, Sorensen hopes the smaller trucks and incentives to reduce waste will win the company citywide contracts.

State has studied road wear

A 2009 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) report about municipal trash hauling found that "garbage truck wear and tear" is hard on roads and streets, and concluded that "we can make our infrastructure last longer if we reduce the number of trucks."

The report did not consider whether smaller, lighter trucks would save energy and be easier on streets, said Sigurd Scheurle, a solid waste specialist for the MPCA.

"Smaller trucks may have all of the benefits that the firm claims, but we have not done the analysis at MPCA," he said.

An accurate comparison of fuel use between the small and large trucks would "have to index consumption with collected and delivered garbage tonnage or the number of households fully served," Scheurle said. "The roadway wear-and-tear issue is complex, too," he added.

In a city where garbage collection is organized and residents are all served by the same hauler, smaller trucks might be easier on streets. But in a city with open collection where multiple trucks use the same streets, smaller trucks might make no difference, he said.

GarbageMan partner Jim Marik said the smaller trucks are safer, quieter, easier on streets and use less fuel than larger vehicles.

Weighing 18,000 pounds compared with 60,000 pounds for the traditional garbage trucks, the smaller vehicles get 12 to 15 miles per gallon, compared with 4 to 5 miles per gallon for the larger trucks, Marik said.

The company's promotional flier says that their smaller trucks have an impact on streets equivalent to 154 cars and that the larger garbage trucks have an impact equivalent to 1,279 cars.

The smaller vehicles can pick up trash from 150 to 200 residences. When they are full, drivers transfer their contents to a larger truck that takes them to a county transfer station or to the Minneapolis Hennepin Energy Resource Center. The trucks' rendezvous points are typically in commercial districts, Marik said.

While it's difficult to measure wear and tear from a small truck on a street also served by five other full-size garbage trucks, "in some areas where we have the whole street," one small truck noticeably reduces noise and pounding on the pavement, Marik said.

Sarah Hellekson, solid-waste manager for Plymouth, said GarbageMan is the only company she is aware of that uses the smaller trucks.

"I appreciate their concern for the wear and tear on the streets and the concern about the environment," she said.

Transferring garbage from a small truck to a larger one has presented some challenges, Hellekson said. "They have to find a place other than the middle of a street or in front of a house. We are not responsible for where they do that."

GarbageMan sells its trucks as a franchise to individuals who develop their own routes.

Mike Ylinen, a former Realtor, is now a GarbageMan franchisee in Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Crystal and New Hope. "I was a Realtor, and as everybody knows, real estate is not real great at this time," he said.

But home garbage service "is pretty much recession-proof," Ylinen said. "Just from the response that we get from our customers, I think it's going to be a growing market."

Jon Huber, who started offering GarbageMan service in Roseville three months ago, left a moving company to have his own franchise. "I'm my own boss. I run my own routes."

Huber said the little trucks are popular. "Neighborhoods have taken hold and sold our company for us."

One GarbageMan customer, Ken Walker of Maple Grove, said he has persuaded eight of his neighbors to join him in switching to the smaller hauler.

"The other carrier made so much noise and so much mess," Walker said. "They [GarbageMan] are so quiet when they go through. And nothing goes flying around."

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711