WasteExpo 2017: Recycling right

WasteExpo 2017: Recycling right

Pay as you throw programs, education and outreach, data collection, and a focus on fleets are some avenues to take on the road to a successful recycling program.

May 17, 2017
Megan Workman
Conferences & Events Municipal / IC&I
Lisa Skumatz, an economist at Skumatz Economic Research Associates Inc. (SERA), speaks during the session Residential Collection Best Practices at WasteExpo 2017.


When it comes to recycling right, there are many boxes to check off to ensure an overall smooth process. From managing fleets, routes and technology to dealing with daily challenges and limitations, recycling takes time, money and a focus on safety. These topics and others like them were discussed during several sessions at WasteExpo 2017, held May 8-11 in New Orleans.

For residential curbside recycling programs, the most cost-efficient and effective program has proven to be pay as you throw (PAYT) programs, said Lisa Skumatz, an economist at Skumatz Economic Research Associates Inc. (SERA), Superior, Colorado.

In the session Residential Collection Best Practices, Skumatz said it is “incumbent on us to spend money wisely.” Therefore, she concluded, through extensive research, that the most valuable collection program to implement is a PAYT program

“Pay as you throw is the single most efficient and cost-effective option you can put in residential [programs],” Skumatz said. “The trash side will continue to improve with collection and recycling needs to improve with it.”

Skumatz cited a study where PAYT programs have diverted 17 percent of what was going to landfill in addition to materials collected through the residential program. With more than 9,000 PAYT programs operating across the U.S., Skumatz said this accessibility “encourages recycling and organics recycling.” 

Factors such as the size of the curbside cart and frequency of collection pickups also play a role in recycling rates. In addition, Skumatz said recyclers should consider every other week collection. Integrated collection—where the same hauler collects trash and recycling loads—also saves money, she said. “More diversion for less money,” she said. 

Skumatz shared an example where a community moved from once per week collection to every other week pickups. While that community could lose on average 1 to 3 percentage points of its recycling rate by making this move, it could gain more in organics collection. Labor costs and money spent on fuel for weekly collection could instead be allocated toward collecting food waste. Spreading costs across more tons is worthwhile. She explained, “If you instead spend that on organics collection, giving up a 1 to 3 percent recycling rate, you’re gaining 15 percent in organics.”

Beyond switching the frequency of collection, education and awareness are crucial to getting people to recycle correctly. While education and outreach efforts are “not cheap,” Skumatz recognized, they are worth it. However, the efforts of today are not as effective as they could be. 

“There are ways to make the education you offer more effective,” Skumatz said. 

She pointed to the feeling of empowerment and the need people have for self-efficacy. People like to feel as if what they are doing makes a difference, and reminding them of the benefits of recycling could help to drive that message home. Door-to-door marketing, rather than social media marketing, is more convincing, she said.

Skumatz said, “Make people feel more empowered. Eight to 10 percent more recycling happens with people with high efficacy scores.” 

It’s also important to consider incentives and bans, she said. She suggested creating different tip fees based on varying streams. 

She provided an example of regulatory rules proving to be effective on the commercial side: North Carolina’s ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Laws require bars to recycle all beverage containers or risk losing their liquor license. “That’s really effective,” Skumatz said of getting those types of businesses to recycle more and correctly.

Another avenue that has proved to be effective is managing metrics. Collecting data can prove to be beneficial.

[Data] tells you what to do next,” Skumatz said.

Telematics is “a very powerful tool … but it comes with a lot of challenges,” said Ryan White, connected service data analyst at Volvo Construction Equipment, based in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Some of these challenges include mixed fleets with different original equipment manufacturer (OEM) solutions, information overload, and limited time and training. White spoke during the session Vehicle Management—Best Practices.

“There needs more training on how to use telematics,” White said.

He said shifting the control of data collection to the OEM can help companies to better manage fleets. White highlighted Volvo’s ActiveCare Direct, which will be available to the public in July 2017. The machine monitoring tool can provide updates on vehicle alarms and error codes, preventive maintenance schedule, machine hours and operation reports. Monthly fleet reports, White said, can help companies to set realistic goals and track those goals.

“Really what we’re focusing on are results that matter,” White said. “If you’re not using telematics today—should you? If so, what things should you tackle first?”

In that same session focused on vehicle management, speaker Brian Schmidt, RBL (Reliability Based Lubrication) manager at San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp., said there is “continued growth in the use of hydraulics in the waste industry,” adding, “In this industry, it’s very critical.”

Schmidt stressed the importance of keeping oil clean and free of contaminants. Maximizing the life and use of components and oils takes training, he said. 

“How many know your OEM spec on the cleanliness of oil?” Schmidt asked the audience. “It’s really about education and training your workers.”

He added, “It’s a fact that if you reduce contamination, you’re going to increase durability of that component.”

He suggested that each company ensure it has a “good sample program” to test oils for their cleanliness.

Fleet costs are where companies should be focused rather than just disposal costs, said Michael Casella, division manager at Rutland, Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems Inc. Casella served as another speaker in the Residential Collection Best Practices session. He shared that the company recovered 1.2 million tons in 2016, recycling 800,000 tons. Casella Waste Systems Inc., an integrated solid waste services company, serves Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. 

“People focus just one disposal costs but really they need to focus on truck costs,” Casella said. 

Along with costs associated with collection trucks, Casella said the length of contracts dictates economics. Properly managing the length of contracts helps to ensure new trucks are covered as well as any changes to services, such as organics collection. Casella suggested bundling residential organics collection into the municipality contract.

As Skumatz said in the same session, Casella agreed that switching up the frequency of collection days—from once per week to every other week—can add value. Rolling out new carts for residents also helps to increase recycling rates, he said. Many municipalities Casella works with have PAYT programs, he said.

“You can add a lot of value by switching up every other week services,” Casella said. However, he warned that there could be some public outcry. “It takes time for customers to get used to it; as soon as you start taking services away, it’s a big thing,” Casella said.

Again agreeing with Skumatz, Casella said recycling is a service that is not free, and residents should be aware of this. 

Casella said, “Recycling is not free. Organics recycling is not free. We have to raise awareness and reset expectations.” 

Ultimately, recycling should be viewed from the ground up, not from 10,000 feet down, said Gary Osman, financial manager at Brooklyn, New York-based Sims Municipal Recycling (SMR). SMR is a division of New York City and Sydney-based Sims Metal Management (SMM). Osman spoke during the session Limits to Recycling. 

“At the end of the day, we’d like to recycle everything,” Osman said. “Look at [recycling] from the ground up, don’t look at recycling from 10,000 feet.” 

WasteExpo 2017 was May 8-11 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.