collection: Who Handles the Trash in the 100 Largest U.S. Cities?

How do your rates, services and market shares stack up against other U.S. cities' public and private solid waste programs? To help you answer these and other questions, 100 of the largest U.S. cities were surveyed during the first half of 1997 by Hilton Farnkopf & Hobson, a Newport Beach, Calf.-based solid waste consulting firm.

Combined, these top 100 cities represent a population of 22 million residents. New York, the largest city surveyed, recorded 7.3 million residents while Newport News, Va., was at the other end of the spectrum with only 171,000 residents.

Exclusive municipal service is still king of the residential refuse collection market; it is provided in 62 percent of the cities, according to the survey. A total of 18 percent use exclusive private service under a contract or franchise agreement. In addition, 6 percent employ open competition where several haulers vie for residential customers, and 14 percent have combinations of arrangements.

The largest cities are more likely to have publicly-operated residential collection programs. Based on the population served, 70 percent of the residents in these 100 cities are served by municipal collection operations.

The high percentage of municipally-operated residential collection programs, combined with privatization trends, provides limited potential growth for private solid waste companies. Based on an average $13 monthly rate reported by the municipal operators and assuming three people per household, the residential market served by the municipal operators has a $1.9 billion average annual value.

Compare this to the 1996 reported total revenues of Waste Management Inc. (approximately $9.2 billion) and Browning-Ferris Industries (approximately $5.8 billion).

Unlike the residential market where municipal service providers dominate, only 12 percent of the cities reported exclusive municipal service for commercial collection. The vast majority of the cities, 60 percent, allow open competition among private haulers for commercial collection.

A small number, 13 percent of the surveyed cities reported that their municipal collection operation competes with private haulers for commercial customers, and 15 percent of the cities have an exclusive private contract or franchise agreement.

A 95 percent majority of the cities collect either curbside or in alleys, while the remaining 5 percent provide backyard service as standard or optional.

In addition to refuse collection service, 87 percent reported operating curbside recycling programs, 74 percent collected yard waste and 69 percent offer a household hazardous waste collection day.

Nearly two-thirds of the surveyed cities provide once-per-week residential refuse collection. Approximately 30 percent provide twice-per-week service, and 4 percent use other pickup schedules. New York and Boston offer collection up to three times per week.

Manual refuse collection is still the predominant collection method, used by 45 percent of the cities. Twenty-eight percent provide fully-automated service, and 13 percent provide semi-automated service. Another 13 percent use a combination of methods.

While 81 percent still charge all residential customers a flat monthly rate for solid waste collection, some 19 percent of the jurisdictions have implemented variable rates which require residential customers to pay for solid waste collection services based on the amount of waste generated.

This is done in a variety of ways, including volume-based rates charging by the number of containers and/ or container size and pay-by-weight systems.

Thirty-eight percent of the cities owned their own landfills, while 62 percent used third-party landfills owned by either the counties or private companies.

The private sector share of the disposal market will probably increase in future years as smaller, municipally-owned landfills are closed and waste quantities are transported to larger, regional landfills that often are owned by private solid waste companies.

Landfill tip fees ranged from $7.50 to $97 per ton. Interestingly, the two lowest reported tip fees were in Colorado (Aurora at $7.50 per ton and Denver at $9.15 per ton) and the two highest were in Washington (Tacoma at $80 per ton and Spokane at $97 per ton).

For more information about this survey, contact Hilton Farnkopf & Hobson at (714) 251-8628.

1. Air Force One uses retread tires.

a. True b. False

2. PET bottles cannot be recycled back into food and beverage containers.

a. True b. False

3. All recycled products must be labeled as recycled products.

a. True b. False

4. The easiest way to determine the difference between a virgin and a recycled product is:

a. chemical testing

b. physical testing

c. none of the above

5. When you are buying a product, recycled content should be your only consideration.

a. True b. False

Answers to QuickQuiz: 1 - A. Not only does Air Force One use retreads, so do all other domestic airlines, about 80 percent of truck fleets, the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

2 - B. PET bottles can be recycled into food and beverage containers using technologies reviewed and found safe by the Food and Drug Administration. In 1996, 24 million pounds of recycled PET were used to manufacture new food and beverage containers.

3 - B. Many of the products that we use, such as auto parts, steel, plastic products, tissue and towel products and many others use recycled materials and provide good quality products at a competitive price.

4 - C. There is no chemical or physical test to determine the difference.

5 - B. Price and quality should also be important considerations; if you buy a recycled product that is significantly overpriced or does not suit your needs, you have not made a good purchase. In addition, you should look for other environmental features of the product, such as waste prevention, lower energy use and less toxicity.

Questions courtesy of Maryland Environmental Services. For more information, contact: Richard Keller, 2011 Commerce Dr., Annapolis, Md. 21401. (410) 974-7281. Fax: (410) 974-7267.