Garbage collection

Garbage collection

New approaches and innovative ideas are emerging that hold the potential to improve garbage collection efficiency and effectiveness.

Garbage collection

Nobody wants to live amongst garbage and waste. It is an environmental and health hazard. It is a blight on a city’s natural beauty. And it is often perceived as being indicative of poor city administration and planning. Thankfully, new approaches and innovative ideas are emerging that hold the potential to improve garbage collection efficiency and effectiveness.

Defining the service

Garbage collection services refers to the collection and removal of waste that cannot be recycled or reused. For this exercise, waste disposal services (such as landfill site operations) were not included in calculations. Waste diversion programs (such as recycling) were also separated and the benchmarking results are presented here.

Topline findings

  • The average city spends US$201 to collect a ton of garbage
  • Costs range from as low as US$32 per ton to as high as US$582 per ton
  • At least half of the cities in our research report 100 percent coverage of properties
  • Many cities charge fees for collection

Benchmarking analysis


Cost and revenue of collecting a ton of garbage. These measures reflect the total costs (operating and capital) for garbage collection and the total revenue collected (through fees and other charges), divided by the number of reported tons of garbage collected during the period. For this indicator, we separated costs from revenue and compared them side by side (see below).

Points to consider:

  • Seventeen cities provided information to determine the efficiency of garbage collection. When we look at the raw costs (operating and capital), costs can range from US$30–US$580/tonne. However when we look at the net cost, an interesting picture emerges where three cities actually make money from the garbage collection service — yes, revenue from fees per tonne exceed the cost per tonne.
  • Interesting to note that not all cities charge fees, or at least given the information provided. Four cities did not report revenue. Reviewing those specific cities did not reveal any geographic evidence that fees are not acceptable in specific countries. So why then do certain cities charge fees and other do not? Do some cities feel that the cost of garbage collection is something that property taxes should cover? In addition to the four that don’t generate revenue, five other cities only collect a nominal amount of revenue and certainly not enough to come anywhere near the cost of the service.
  • Costs can vary for those cities that are more congested and those with convoluted streets, such as those one might find in large urban centers and older cities with narrow streets.
  • Some cities have included the cost of waste disposal in their costs of garbage collection, whereas other cities have not. Waste disposal facilities are the single most expensive component of the waste program and these costs continue to increase as environmental regulations become more stringent.
  • In Taiwan, cities use classical music on their garbage trucks to notify their residents they are coming and then residents rush out with the solid waste and recycling. Residents wait for trucks to come by and must pay for residual waste in city bags while recycled and organic waste is free.
  • Garbage collection, in combination with garbage disposal, will only become more expensive as cities grow unless cities adopt fairly aggressive waste diversion targets. Combining garbage collection, garbage disposal and waste diversion services into a full view of waste is becoming the norm for many cities — measuring their efficiency and effectiveness in combination should be the goal.

Cost and revenue of collecting one ton of garbage (US$)

Cost and revenue of collecting one ton of garbage (US$)


Percent of properties served by garbage collection services. This measure reflects the percentage of serviceable properties that receive regular garbage collection. This may represent all properties (residential, commercial and industrial) in a city or — where services are limited to residential properties — just residential.

Points to consider:

  • Of the fifteen cities that provided data, most reported a high percentage of garbage collection throughout their jurisdiction. One city stands out at 44 percent. A reasonable explanation as to why this city is so low may be a result of the term “property” which may be treated differently in this jurisdiction.
  • Many cities do not collect garbage from business establishments and focus primarily on residential properties. Some cities may pick up garbage from multiresidential buildings and a few actually collect garbage from retail establishments that have residents above.
  • Some cities may collect the garbage weekly or more frequently which will directly impact the costs. Finally, some cities have large poor communities (i.e. slums, favelas, human settlements) that are not serviced well by city services, including garbage collection, and therefore these cities can skew the efficiency and effectiveness indicators.

Percent of properties served by garbage collection service

Percent of properties served by garbage collection service

Persistent problems

  • Changing public garbage habits and expectations
  • Poorly maintained or outdated equipment and assets
  • Growing environmental concerns and awareness
  • Rising service level expectations
  • Reducing rubbish dumping and illegal disposal
  • Encouraging waste diversion
  • Physical constraints to waste separation in buildings

Common cost factors

  • Outsourcing or contracted waste collection arrangements
  • Rolling stock and equipment
  • Frequency of collection and scope of services
  • Input costs (oil, gas, etc.)

Innovative ideas

  • In an effort to raise revenues and support broader waste avoidance and diversion efforts, the City of Dresden has instituted a pay-as-you-throw charge system for residential waste.
  • The City of Belfast has implemented a new route optimization software platform that is already improving efficiency on refuse collection routes.
  • The Streets Department in Philadelphia is part of a multi-departmental task force aimed at creating a combined and comprehensive approach to reducing litter and increasing waste diversion at the street level.
  • Leveraging ‘smart city’ models, garbage collection authorities in Antwerp are using ‘big belly’ bins and real-time monitoring systems to improve waste management efficiency.

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