COLLECTION: Communities Make The Switch To Bi-Weekly Collection

As recycling programs age, solid waste managers are turning to a resource that was lacking just a few years ago - collection data.

To some, the numbers suggest that cost efficiency is not possible until services are cut. Reducing the frequency of recycling collection is one method of minimizing costs.

The nationwide municipal budget crunch did not escape the solid waste division of Sacramento, Ca-lif., which serves 109,000 single family households.

In the first step to control costs and save money, the city council categorized all municipal services as either a core or non-core activity. While curbside collection was deemed a core activity, the frequency of collection (weekly) was identified as a non-core activity.

To conform to the council's re-quest to reduce costs, Sacramen-to's recycling collection program became bi-weekly on January 1, 1994. Now, eight months into the revised operation, Gary VanDorst, the city's acting technical services manager, has reported improved e-fficiency.

"Costs have been reduced by 38 percent," VanDorst said. "We went from 16 trucks to 10 trucks which brought an estimated savings of $525,000."

However, tonnage was lower during the first month of bi-weekly collection since residents were adjusting to the new schedule. As a re- sult, the total tonnage collected/ diverted from the first quarter of 1994 has reportedly dropped 14 percent compared to the first quarter of 1993.

The sanitation department had three to four months to prepare for the change. Two months prior to implementation, the city put bro-chures in participating bins to in-form residents of the new bi-weekly collection. Other informational tactics included public service an-nouncements on local television and radio stations and door hangers that included decals with the new collection schedule. Meetings were held with block leaders and brochures were distributed at community gatherings. The city also volunteered to provide five-gallon buckets for residents who needed an extra container.

Despite the intensive campaign, phone calls increased approximately 200 percent during the first two weeks of the revised program from residents who claimed that they were not notified of the schedule changes.

"After the first month, participation levels were on-line again," VanDorst said. "In fact, the second month matched last year's participation pattern. We just have to realize that the program is still in its early stage of operation," Van-Dorst said.

Niagara Recycling in St. Cath-erines, Ontario, wanted to collect additional materials without purchasing more trucks. Add this to the non-profit organization's quest to cut costs and bi-weekly collection seemed to be the perfect solution.

Since the company already collects recyclables bi-weekly at a-nother municipality, Niagara Re-cycling's General Manager, Nor- man Kraft, knew what the transition would entail.

First, Kraft reduced the fleet from 16 trucks to 14. A third truck could have been removed from the recycling fleet but cardboard and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics were added to the collection list, which requires more space on the trucks. The additional materials collected have helped to maintain the same tonnage as last year, Kraft said.

Since the conversion in April, the company has saved an estimated 15 to 20 percent in overall collection costs. Bi-weekly collection is even more sensible for a ru-ral community, which comprises 15 to 20 percent of the area that is served by Niagara, according to Kraft.

Participation dropped initially, but residents made up for it in the long run, according to Kraft. At the beginning, residents put materials out when it was not their week. It took one to two months for residents to adjust, Kraft added. Re-cycling collection is on the same day as garbage collection, but every other week as opposed to weekly garbage collection. If residents need extra storage space, they can purchase another bin or use a cardboard box.

Collecting containers that were only half full was one of the driving forces behind the city of Toronto's decision to switch 131,000 single family households to an alternate collection program.

The city collects glass bottles and jars, cans and jugs placed in a blue box once a week. The next week, the city collects the fiber ma-terials (newspaper, cardboard, magazines, etc.), which are bundled and tied together.

Craig Bartlett, Toronto's coordinator of material recycling, said that alternate collection has al-lowed him to utilize his resources to accommodate the high participation rates. Other benefits in-clude a reduction in overtime rates, increased productivity and less rental payments for trucks. Savings for the first year have been estimated at $343,000, according to Bartlett.

While tonnage remained stable, Toronto residents still fell prey to initial confusion. Bartlett said it took approximately four months before residents were accustomed to the new program and understood the benefits. Residents with full blue boxes were issued additional ones upon request.

"There is a less obvious benefit to bi-weekly collection," said Sac-ramento's VanDorst. "Aside from cost savings, fewer trucks in operation also have less impact on the environment."