Although often a complicated and challenging task, operating an efficient waste collection program provides cities and residents with distinct benefits. Understanding community impacts, operational efficiencies, local regulations, environmental analysis and cost models is critical to addressing this task.

Residents expect efficiency, environmental protection and value from their city’s solid waste and recyclables collection program. In an open-market model, multiple haulers may work in residential areas where the infrastructure cannot support the number and size of the vehicles. This not only may damage roads but increases safety concerns in neighborhoods.

An Alternative Approach

Instead of an open-market model, in which consumers contract for their own services, local governments can implement an organized system. Local governments can gain more by establishing a more defined service framework. Efficiency comes with fewer haulers and less fuel being used. Establishing minimum standards and an organized competitive approach can result in lower rates and reduced community impact.

To secure a real advantage from franchising and organizing collection services, a comprehensive plan that benefits municipality, community and business must be defined. An in-depth evaluation of haulers and their services, market dynamics, and relevant city ordinances should be conducted to understand neighborhoods and demographics, collection and participation behaviors, and relevant city ordinances.

Economic Analysis

Before identifying a preferred approach for a city, a thorough understanding of cost benefits and risks from adopting an alternate collection service is needed. To accurately determine the expected impact of each scenario, comprehensive financial models must assess current pricing structures and forecast costs, as well as future projections based on inflation rates, population growth and service trends.

For efficient and cost-effective services, organized collection districts/zones must be sized correctly. Geographic information system (GIS) tools may be used to determine collection boundaries based on size and population. Clear contract terms also must be defined to achieve the highest service levels for customers.

Community Engagement

Stakeholders should be engaged throughout the planning process to understand the program benefits and overcome a perceived loss of freedom to contract directly with a hauler. Committing to a systematic approach will give communities greater environmental benefits and an optimized outcome. Doing so offers governments an innovative solution to achieving comprehensive waste and recycling collection that provides cost and community benefits.


There are many ways to approach cost efficiencies. See how the city of Dallas used a public-private partnership to make the most of its resources.

Download the Project Profile

Robert Craggs is national technical services leader for the solid waste and resource recovery group at Burns & McDonnell. He serves as the representative for the Planning and Management Technical Division on the advisory board for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and is a board member for the Recycling Association of Minnesota.