MSW Manager: The Art Of The Practical

In the play/movie "Evita," we hear a recurring theme that "politics is the art of the possible."

In solid waste management, operations are the art of the practical as well as the possible.

The scope, methodology and equipment have to be matched with the community's temper and economy - especially in the field of recyclables collection.

While goals can be set by state commissions and recycling gurus, the program design must be left to the community.

Community resources and participation determine what kind of program will be affordable and acceptable.

This does not mean that governments will decide to ignore the goal set by the state or any other legitimate agency. Rather, it means that the technology involved, and the emphasis on who is to be responsible, may be driven more sensibly by the community and its solid waste professionals.

A good recycling program is one where the maximum participation is married with the least operational cost. The object is not to maximize the purity of the material set out at the curb or to make life as easy and profitable as possible for the materials recovery facility.

Rather, we should strive to maximize the percentage of solid waste being recycled in the least burdensome manner for the residents. Considering the direct correlation between the degree of difficulty required for the residents to meet the program's requirements and participation levels, money invested in public education can be the best ever spent.

Currently, three basic collection methods are used in recycling programs:

* In the first method, every house hold is issued several, small plastic boxes for various types of recyclables. These are collected by a compartmented vehicle from the curb on trash collection day.

* The second type uses a 30- to 90-gallon container split vertically where either all recyclables are on one side and refuse on the other, or where paper is on one side and all other recyclables are on the other.

* In the third type, all recyclables are commingled in undivided, 30- to 90-gallon containers and collected using flippers or an automated arm.

Each method varies in the purity and amount of materials collected, the scavenging encouraged and the economics.

If you haven't been recycling at all, the first step is determine the markets for your recyclables. Don't look for the highest price, but rather at what commodities can be sold and in what form they are acceptable.

Next, calculate the cost to collect it and find out the condition it has to be in to guarantee marketability. Also, determine the level of community support you can expect - how much are they willing to do to ensure the maximum amount of salable material.

This will define the art of the possible for your community.

The rest is pure economics. Use your present fleet, workforce and containers as much as possible. Whatever combination gives you the most bang for the buck and ultimately is supported by your community will be the best system.