Kerbside Recycling: Indicative costs and performance

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The increase in national recycling rates achieved by local authorities since the publication of Waste Strategy 2000 has been impressive. The growth from 7% to 31% in 2006/07 has been achieved through a mixture of investment and ingenuity, but it has resulted in the creation of a number of different collection systems with many local variations. Although opinions about the merits of the different systems are often firmly held, there has so far been little objective evidence about their cost and effectiveness or about the quality of the material they produce or the implications for service standards to customers.

This report is intended to provide a systematic appraisal of the characteristics of the principal kerbside recycling collection systems looking at both their cost and effectiveness. WRAP will support this by further work looking at managing material quality within municipal recycling systems and how to underpin customer support for these new systems.

This report does not attempt to identify a “best value” or “best” system. All the evidence, and common sense, suggests that a range of systems will be needed to meet the varying circumstances within which local authorities provide recycling services. The report first identifies the characteristics of a good practice approach to the main recycling options and then models the relative cost of these approaches and their effectiveness. The underlying assumptions used in the modelling have been extensively tested with leading practitioners in local authorities, the waste industry and the reprocessing sector.

The study has focused on the three main kerbside collection systems currently operating: kerbside sort; single stream co-mingled; and two stream partially co-mingled. It examines a number of the main service variations in each category within two different local contexts.

The intention is that local authorities should use the information in this report to consider their actual costs in the light of predicted costs of a comparable good practice system. Because the underlying assumptions are set out, they should be able to identify the reasons for variations between their cost and the predicted values.

Although it is not the intention of this report to provide a definitive answer to the question “which is the best system for me?” by its nature it has identified some systematic differences in the options examined. These can be summarised as:

  • In current market conditions kerbside sort schemes show lower costs – net of income from material sales - than single stream co-mingled schemes.
  • The net costs of co-mingled schemes are heavily affected by MRF gate fees and the costs of kerbside sort by income from the sale of materials.
  • Two stream co-mingled collections which keep paper separate from containers have similar net costs to kerbside sort schemes.
  • There is little variation in material yields between the three main scheme types but, within schemes, variants which collect glass and have an alternate weekly collection of refuse exhibit the greatest diversion rates.
  • Recycling collections are maximised when customers are provided with adequate capacity through more or larger containers and/or weekly collections of recyclable materials.
  • There appears to be no systematic advantage for one recycling system based on the ‘urban or ‘rural’ nature of the areas served.

A report of this sort cannot say anything about the quality of the materials collected by the different systems. WRAP remains of the view that, with the current capacity of the sorting infrastructure, kerbside sort schemes offer the best prospect for achieving good quality materials. However, the technology for sorting materials is constantly improving meaning that improvements in MRF capabilities are possible where local authorities and MRF providers both work to achieve that. WRAP has a separate programme addressing quality issues in MRFs with a view to raising the quality of output to a level suitable for UK reprocessors to use for high value applications.

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