Waste diversion and recycled waste collection

Waste diversion and recycled waste collection

A greater focus on measuring the performance of recycled waste collection services will be key as cities move towards a more circular economy.

Recycled waste collection yard

As governments and citizens become increasingly aware of their impact on the environment, demand for recycling and waste diversion programs is growing. Recycling tends to enjoy fairly reliable revenue streams from the sale of recycled waste collected, yet few cities seem to have achieved revenue neutrality. A greater focus on measuring and improving efficiency and effectiveness will be key as cities move towards a more circular economy.

Defining the service

Waste diversion and recycled waste collection services provide residential, commercial and/or industrial waste recycling and reuse services. Separate to garbage collection services (presented here), this service may include the collection and recycling of items such as paper, glass, organics, construction material, appliances and electronics.

Topline findings

  • The average city spends US$210 per ton of waste diverted — Costs range from as low as US$32 per ton to as high as US$1,177 per ton
  • Revenues range from US$24 to US$215 per ton
  • While there are notable exceptions, most cities divert around a third of t their waste

Benchmarking analysis


Cost and revenue per ton of waste diverted. These measures reflect the total cost (operating and capital) for waste diversion services and the total revenue collected (through fees and material sales), divided by the number of reported tons of waste diverted during the period.

Points to consider:

Cost per ton of waste diverted

  • Ask any city in the world what they are doing to reduce the cost of waste disposal and almost all of them will talk about the three “R’s” — Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Clearly the reduction of residual solid waste in landfill sites is an incredibly important goal given the cost of seeking approval for and operating such sites.
  • The average cost of diverting waste is estimated at US$210/tonne across 15 cities. The costs range from a high of US$4,118/tonne to a low of $32/tonne. These variations may be attributed to the degree of maturity of waste diversion where cities that have recently introduced waste diversion may still be paying for the infrastructure. A number of Australian cities make up the lower cost per tonne begging more details as to why their costs are lower.
  • As with garbage collection, costs for collection are significantly influenced by the condition of roads, accessibility of the curbside/collection facilities and the state of collection equipment.

Revenue per ton of waste diverted

  • We also examined revenue collected for the waste diversion service and note that the adjusted mean is approximately $65/ tonne for the eleven cities that provided such information.
  • While not all cities that reported costs reported revenue from waste diversion, we expect that the revenue is associated with selling the recycled waste (i.e. glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum, etc.) to firms interested in using recycled material as part of their production process. Revenue likely did not come from collection fees as this would be counter-productive in attracting more participation.
  • Clearly the revenue collected at US$65/ tonne doesn’t come near meeting the cost of US$210/tonne. However, the value of diverting waste does not factor the cost avoidance of diverting the solid waste away from the landfill sites. The value of diverting waste is priceless!

Operating and capital cost per ton of waste diverted (US$)

Operating and capital cost per ton of waste diverted (US$)


Percent recycled waste of total waste collected. This outcome metric reflects the percentage of all collected solid waste that is recycled or diverted from waste disposal sites.

Points to consider:

  • Public perception and participation levels can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of recycling programs.
  • Generally speaking, waste diversion service effectiveness is often related to the maturity of the recycling program.
  • Some cities are encouraging retailers and businesses to move to monostream packaging to improve recycling effectiveness.
  • The inclusion of a wider range of streams — including organic recycling and large appliance recycling — can influence the percentage of waste recycled.
    In many markets, the informal sector (such as garbage pickers) plays a significant role.

Percent recycled waste of total waste collected

Percent recycled waste of total waste collected

Persistent problems

  • Increasing public demand for recycling services
  • Managing volatile secondary market prices
  • Eliminating unauthorized non-residential dumping
  • Enhancing public education and awareness
  • Managing outsourcing costs
  • Accommodating waste separation streams in older buildings

Common cost factors

  • Road congestion and maneuvering collection vehicles around narrow and convoluted streets
  • Rolling stock and equipment
  • Outsourcing costs and obligations
  • Frequency of collection and variety of acceptable streams
  • Input costs (oil, gas, etc.)

Innovative ideas

  • Authorities in Wyndham have installed recycling receptacles that dispense vouchers, competition entries or charity donations when recyclable materials are deposited.
  • Philadelphia’s Streets Department has created targeted education and outreach initiatives aimed at residential multifamily structures in lower-performing areas of the city.
  • Moscow has developed a centralized solid municipal waste management system that rationalizes the number of providers in the city and encourages new investment using long-term contracts and agreements.
  • With recycling and organics collected weekly, the City of Cardiff has implemented restrictions on the quantity of residual waste that residents can present for collection every fortnight. — The City of Dresden has opened its eighth ‘bring center’ for the collection of waste and recyclables.
  • In Brisbane, authorities have launched the Rethink your Rubbish program supported by an integrated marketing and communications campaign and heightened focus on school programs.

Combined efficiency and effectiveness analysis

Points to consider:

  • We have combined both the cost per ton of waste diverted (efficiency) and percent of waste diverted (effectiveness) to see how cities are faring with regard to the question of “value for money”. The chart below combines the cost per ton of waste diverted (efficiency) with the percent of waste diverted of total waste collected (effectiveness) to demonstrate how cities might present a more compelling picture of performance.
  • When reviewing the chart, the ideal location is in the upper left quadrant where City 8 is providing a reasonably low cost for an exceptionally high diversion rate.
  • Cities 1, 13, 5 and 12 are clearly in the preferred location of the graph when it comes to cost but need to work on diverting more waste, while Cities 24 and 11 can reduce costs and increase the amount of waste diverted.
  • Due to the relative newness of such a graph in municipal circles, we don’t yet understand what factors can readily shift a city from its current positioning to a more preferred “value for money” position. However, further knowledge about how to influence service levels will certainly help cities move in the right direction.

Waste diversion - combined efficiency and effectiveness

Waste diversion - combined efficiency and effectiveness

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