Achieving Lower Costs, Better Service

Let's face it, collection is costly and streamlining this process can be a solution to meeting these new demands.

In fact, while more stringent rules have increased the cost of operating landfills and waste-to-energy plants, a recent study of total integrated municipal solid waste management collection system costs, conducted by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) confirms that solid waste collection (including recyclables) is still the most expensive element.

As a result of past SWANA research, a study was initiated to highlight how communities can reduce collection costs while improving customer satisfaction. The study focused on co-collection, automation, routing and service level changes. Case studies were developed in each of these areas to be published exclusively in World Wastes.

Since most communities implement several changes within the same timeframe, this series takes a comprehensive view to present a realistic picture of the transitions.

In the survey, the communities first identified all MSW and recycling collection costs. These were then studied in relation to other system costs, such as those in the processing or transfer of wastes.

A preliminary assessment was made and included factors such as labor agreements, estimates of productive and non-productive route time, contract terms, degree of competition, fleet age and condition and elements such as narrow streets, hills, climate, economy and population.

Finally, the preliminary assessment included establishing realistic priorities. Was cutting costs the main goal or was it more important to increase diversion rates or offer more services? Should changes be made in the number or types of materials diverted and were the most cost effective materials being diverted?

In each community studied in this series, establishing current costs was vital the system's assessment and changes. Identification of shared expenses with other departments, such as fleet maintenance, retirement/pension costs, or general and administrative costs, is often a stumbling block.

But making changes without knowing all costs can be expensive and unproductive. A cost accounting system should be used, because unlike budget-based accounting, it considers all resources used or committed to a program and not only the cash outlays from a fiscal year.Finally, compare the collection changes' potential benefits to their costs. These "before and after" benefit/cost analyses are essential in communicating with customers about the plans and how it will affect them.