Collecting Problems

What's a collection manager to do?

Ok, the costs are high, injuries and complaints common and compliments scarce, but overall, collection isn't given as much grief as landfills or waste-to-energy plants.

Picking up garbage used to be so (relatively) simple. Then, automated collection entered the picture. Here the choices were simple: fully or semi automated.

Once you get past the initial investment, potential labor (and/or union) problems and citizen education, automated collection can be one of the great advancements in our industry.

Next, recycling emerged from a basic desire to limit the country's dependence on landfills, and may be even reuse a ton or two along the way.

And here's where it became a little complicated.

Although the collection end of the recycling system was probably the simplest part of the puzzle (compared to marketing the materials once collected), there was nothing simple about recycling collection.

Our industry jumped in with entrepreneurial zeal, creating a number of viable options that include collecting the materials presorted at the curb in a separate truck; collecting the materials presorted at the curb in the same truck; and collecting unsorted garbage and taking it to a MRF.

While collection managers had to figure out which option made the most sense for their operation, at least some of the path had been laid out.

Soon, millions of people were "recycling" and some, if not a lot of the materials were all dressed up with no place to go.

Meanwhile, the EPA was telling us that although we were recycling more, we were generating more trash, as well.

Recently some collection managers have begun to consider weight-based or volume-based collection rates. Why? Because in our haste to recycle, we forgot to generate less waste. So this might be the answer charge people for what they generate.

But wait; this isn't so simple, either.

First you have to decide if you're going to make your customers pay by the volume they generate or the weight of the filled container. Of course, charging customers by weight isn't exactly legal yet but don't be surprised if that changes within the next year.

If you are going to charge your customer by the volume they generate, you can sell tags to put on their sacks, sell collection sacks themselves, issue specific size carts and charge according to frequency, size and/or hair color of the sanitation worker.

My point is that the importance of managing collection is becoming more widely recognized. In fact, I predict that collection management will become part of the solution to solid waste management problems.