Baler or compactor, what is the difference?

16 November 2022 Shares

Home Recycling baler Baler or compactor, what is the difference?

By 16 November 2022 Shares

Baler or compactor, what is the difference?

Vertical baler, trash compactor or horizontal baler?

Does your company generate large quantities of waste materials? Then a baler or compactor is a great alternative for a dumpster or waste bins. By compressing waste, such as cardboard or plastic, you reduce its volume significantly. Balers and compactors free up space, are efficient to use, and are cost-effective.

But should your company invest in a vertical downstroke baler, a trash compactor or a horizontal channel baler? Let’s get into the details of waste compacting and baling machines to learn about their pros, cons and differences.


In short: The differences between a baler and a compactor

  • A baler compresses and bundles waste materials into dense bales that are stackable and can be efficiently transported for further processing. Eject a finished bale and restart the process of baling.
  • A compactor compacts waste materials inside a container. The full container is picked up by a waste hauler and swapped out for an empty one.
  • A baler can only bale waste materials that are able to be baled, such as cardboard or plastics. Organic waste can only be compacted in a compactor.


  • Designed to compact waste materials and reduce their volume.
  • Takes up less space than a waste dumpster or waste bin.
  • Baling or compacting waste results in less waste hauling frequency which reduces costs and the carbon footprint.
  • Minimize the labor time spent managing waste materials.

What is a vertical downstroke baler?

vertical-downstroke-baler-machineA vertical baler is a machine that compacts waste streams into dense bales. The downstroke baling machine requires minimal floor space. Waste streams are compressed by a pressing plate that is forced by pneumatic or hydraulic cylinders.

Often vertical balers are used for baling cardboard, plastic, aluminum cans, or clothing. When the baling process is finished the bale is manually or automatically tied and then ejected onto a pallet.

  • Indoor use (outdoor only galvanized)
  • Requires minimal floor space
  • Lowest investment
  • Stationary machine
  • For baling small volumes of waste
  • Potential income stream by selling bales

Vertical balers

What is a trash compactor?

trash-compactor-machineA compactor is a container with an integrated pressing mechanism. The compactor reduces the size and volume of waste materials through compaction. The trash compactor is a container with an integrated hydraulic, pneumatic or mechanical powered press that compresses the waste horizontally. When the chamber of the compactor is full the compactor is hauled by a waste company and emptied for further processing.

It is often used for compacting unsorted commercial waste, why it is often called a trash compactor and not a recycling compactor. There are mobile self-contained compactors and fixed stationary compactors with detachable container.

  • Outdoor or indoor use
  • Requires medium floor space
  • Medium investment / Recurring rental cost and hauling cost
  • Self-contained or stationary or machine
  • Self-contained for compacting medium volumes of waste
  • Stationary for compacting large volumes of waste

What is a horizontal baler?

horizontal-baler-machineA horizontal baler is the largest machine for compressing waste materials. The machine compacts multiple types of waste streams into mill-sized bales with a horizontal pressing plate. The horizontal baler comes roughly in two variants, an open-end, and closed-end baler. The open-end channel baler is characterized by the open rear end of the extrusion chamber and the auto-tie function for the bales.

A closed-end baler type is recognized by the closed-off pressing chamber. It is also a smaller baler in comparison to an open-end auto-tie baler. Open-end balers can have a single or double ram configuration.

  • Indoor use
  • Requires lots of floor space
  • High investment
  • Stationary machine
  • For baling high volumes of waste
  • Potential income stream by selling bales

Horizontal balers

Baler vs. compactor comparison

  Vertical baler Compactor Horizontal baler
Press direction
Vertical Horizontal Horizontal
Output Wired bale Compacted waste Wired (mill-sized) bale
Press force
10,000 – 120,000 lbs 25,000 – 60,000 lbs 40 – 200 tonnes
Capacity Low Medium High
Cycle time
20 – 40 s 30 – 60 s 60 – 90 s
Placement Indoor (outdoor: galvanized) Indoor or outdoor Indoor
Main use
Bale sorted waste Compacting sorted or unsorted waste Bale sorted waste
Price range
$5,000 – $15,000 $20,000 – $30,000 $25,000 – $ 1,5 million
Investment Buy / rent / lease Buy / rent / lease Buy / lease
Customization Door type, internal or external cylinders Highly customizable Highly customizable
Waste types
Cardboard, paper, plastic, clothing, aluminum cans Suitable for almost any waste material Suitable for almost any waste material
Suitable for organic (wet) waste No Yes No
Installation Stationary Self-contained or stationary Stationary
Compaction ratio
Up to 1:10 Up to 1:5 Up to 1:10
When full
Eject the bale and restart baling process Waste hauling is needed Eject the bale and restart baling process

Why use a baler?

Get a baler when you want to compress single waste streams into individual bales, such as cardboard, paper or plastics. A baler gives your company more flexibility because it can continuously generate bales. Your internal process will not be interfered by the generated waste streams, you only need to have available storage space for the bales and the right equipment for transporting the bales.


Why use a compactor?

Get a self-contained compactor when you want to reduce the volume of unsorted, wet or organic waste streams and lower waste hauling frequencies and waste handling costs. A compactor is a quick and easy solution to reduce the volume and to save on waste hauling costs. The downside is that a full compactor needs to be hauled first, in order to continue compacting waste.


Recycling baler advice

Learn more about recycling balers.

Types of balers