The Benchmarking of Residential Recycling
Residential curbside collection services for recyclables and yardwaste have been in place since the early 1990s. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 7,700 curbside recycling programs and 3,500 yardwaste-composting facilities in the US (Biocycle, April 2006).
Despite the prevalence of these services, there is relatively little known about them. For example:
- How often, on average, do residents set out recyclables or yardwaste for collection?
- What is the average weight of the recyclables or yardwaste set out for collection?
- How many households can a recycling or yardwaste crew serve each day?
- How many injuries are incurred in the collection of recyclables and yardwastes, and how can these be minimized?
- How much do curbside recycling and yardwaste collection services cost, and how can these costs be reduced?
Factual answers to these questions can only be provided through the systematic collection and analysis of historical cost and performance data on these programs. In this regard, the SWANA Applied Research Foundation (ARF) is currently conducting a collaborative benchmarking effort in conjunction with the ARF FY2010 Collection Group Subscribers, the SWANA Collection Technical Division, and SWANA’s 8,000-plus members—many of whom are responsible for the provision and/or management of recyclables and yardwaste collection services.
The FY2010 Collection Group Subscribers that have contributed to the funding of this work effort are listed in Table 1. Contributors from SWANA’s Collection and Transfer Technical Division are listed in Table 2.
The benchmarking of residential recyclables and yardwaste collection services is part of an ongoing benchmarking program that has been conducted by the SWANA ARF over the last eight years. As a result of this effort, a report entitled “The Benchmarking of Residential Solid Waste Collection Services: FY2008 Report” was published by SWANA. In FY2010, SWANA hopes to both update the 2008 report on residential waste collection as well as add benchmarking data on recyclables and yardwaste collection.
To date, SWANA has received benchmarking data from the nine local government collection service providers listed in Table 3. Preliminary findings based on the analysis of this initial data set are presented in this article. It is our hope that, in response to this article, additional collection system managers will see the value of this benchmarking effort and decide to participate in this project.
Residential Recyclables Collection
A sample of the cost and performance data being collected for residential recyclables collection services is provided in Table 4. This sample data set provides examples of the types of questions that can be addressed once a fully developed and functioning database is developed.
- Cost Savings—As the table indicates, the costs for weekly recyclables collection are in the $2.50- to $3-per-customer-per-month range, while the costs of biweekly collection are less than $2 per customer per month. In light of the current recession, community leaders might want to consider reducing the frequency of collection as a cost-saving measure. The performance data provided for these jurisdictions indicate that the recycling diversion rate can still be high in a biweekly collection program.
- Injury Rates—This is an area where an accurate and substantial data set is sorely needed. If the sample data set is representative, we may be able to reduce injury rates through conversion to single stream due to its ability to use automated collection vehicles as they enable the collector to stay in the collection vehicle and avoid the manual lifting of the recyclables into the collection vehicle.
- Collection Crew Productivity—The data in the table illustrate the important relationship between collection crew productivity and setout rates. The high productivity of the crews of Service Provider No. 1 (2,167 households per crew per day) is due to the relatively low set-out rate (54%). Service Provider No. 3 provides the same service on a biweekly basis but its crews have a lower productivity (771 HH/crew/day) due to the higher set-out rate (75%). From an efficiency perspective, it may be better to reduce the frequency of collection so that more setouts are actually collected and there are less drive-bys during the collection service.
- Pounds Per Set Out—As indicated, the pounds per customer per year collected through the single-stream approach (566–677) is significantly greater than that collected by the dual-stream service provider (331). This is probably a result of the ability to collect a wider variety of recyclables in the single-stream container due to its large capacity (96 gallons) and rolling capability when compared to the 14- to 18-gallon recycling bins typically used for dual-stream collection. It is possible that some of the increased setout weight may be due to increased levels of nonrecyclables set out with the recyclables.
Residential Yardwaste Collection
A sample of the cost and performance data being collected for residential yardwaste collection services is provided in Table 5. A preliminary analysis yields the following observations.
- Cost savings—As the table indicates, the costs for weekly yardwaste collection are on the order of $3 per customer per month for the manual collection approach and $1.50 per customer per month for automated collection. If the sample data set is indicative, community leaders might want to consider collecting yardwaste with automated collection vehicles to reduce costs.
- Injury rates—As with recyclables collection, this is an area where much more data are needed for the collection services industry to determine the causes of injuries and identify and implement approaches and policies to eliminate or at least minimize them. If the sample data set is representative, injury rates for yardwaste collection may be reduced through the use of automated collection vehicles, as they enable the collector to stay in the collection vehicle and avoid the debagging of the yardwaste at the curb as well as the manual lifting of the yardwaste into the collection vehicle.
- Collection crew productivity—The data set for yardwaste collection did not include set-out rates, which vary seasonally and are not generally measured. In this regard, the industry should adopt a goal of collecting seasonal set-out rates and standardized methods should be developed for measuring and reporting setout rates. This would enable communities to evaluate cost-savings options such as reducing or eliminating yardwaste collection services during the winter season.
- Pounds per set out—As indicated, the pounds of yardwaste collected—in the range of 400–600 pounds per customer per year—are on the same order of magnitude as the quantities of recyclables diverted through the curbside recyclables collection service.
Conclusions and Next Steps
The goal of the FY2010 SWANA Collection Services Benchmarking project is to collect, compile and analyze credible and documented cost and performance data for residential waste, recyclables, and yardwaste collection services from 50 to 100 jurisdictions. A preliminary analysis of the data received from the nine jurisdictions to date illustrates the utility and value that a more complete data set will have for the collection services industry.
In the words of one of the survey respondents: “Benchmarking is a very valuable and important aspect of our service delivery decisions within our industry. With data from other jurisdictions, decision-making is supported and verifiable.”
The respondents also reported that the six-page survey questionnaire (two pages per collection service) was not difficult to complete.
Completed survey questionnaires will be collected by SWANA through the end of August 2010. A project report presenting a compilation and analysis of the data will be published by the end of the year. Each jurisdiction that submits a completed survey will receive a free copy of the project report.
In conclusion, we hope that your jurisdiction will decide to participate in SWANA’s FY2010 Collection Benchmarking Project by submitting a completed survey questionnaire. If you have any questions or need a copy of the survey questionnaire, please contact Jeremy O’Brien, SWANA’s director of applied research, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 704-906-7269.
Author's Bio: Jeremy K. O'Brien, P.E., is director of applied research for the Solid Waste Association of North America.