City adds 'greener, more efficient' leaf-sweeping machines

The city of Merced said it added the “Trackless Leaf Loader” to its leaf-sweeping program this year. It is a greener, more efficient machine that collects leaves, mulches them and shoots them into a truck to get turned into compost.

The new equipment does leave behind more residue, but city streetsweepers follow behind to clean up the remaining leaves, the city said in a news release.

The city had been using 21-year-old leaf sweepers that no longer complied with air pollution control rules. Those units vacuumed up the leaves, but often had to make repeated passes over the leaves to collect them all. This used more fuel and sometimes resulted in accidents from backing up. The new equipment gathers leaves from a 6-foot-wide area, cleaning up neighborhoods at a faster clip.

The vacuum units would suck the leaves into a holding bin on the back. When it was full, the vehicle had to drive to the landfill to deposit its load, slowing down the collection process by up to 60 minutes and increasing the carbon footprint. The new Leaf Loader shoots the leaves into a waiting truck that heads to the future park site at Mission Avenue and Tyler Road where it will enrich the soil. The leaf sweeping operation is never delayed, the news release said.

Public Works officials estimate that fuel consumption and air emissions will be cut by 50 percent with the new equipment. The leaf collection program also is running ahead of schedule because of the new Trackless Leaf Loader.

The vacuum units were used for three months out of the year, and then parked at Public Works. The new vehicle can be used year-round. The leaf attachment can be replaced with lawn mowers, asphalt and concrete grinders and other devices to make it useful under a variety of situations. In addition, the new equipment is more fuel-efficient and products fewer greenhouse gases and complies with existing and pending air pollution regulations, according to the news release.

The Trackless brand vehicle cost $110,000 to buy and $42,000 for the leaf attachment. It would have cost more than $100,000 to retrofit the aging leaf vacuum units. The old units will be sold as surplus.