WRAP reveals results of study into recycling collection costs


WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has published the results of a comprehensive study into different household recycling systems.

The report looks at good practice in recycling services and models the relative costs and performance of these. It covers the costs of widely-used kerbside collection systems in three main categories -

  • kerbside sort - where different types of materials, such as glass and plastic bottles, are put into separate compartments of a collection vehicle
  • single stream co-mingled - where everything goes into one vehicle and is then sorted at a materials recovery facility (MRF) - and
  • two stream partially co-mingled - where householders separate recyclables into two categories - usually fibres (paper and card) and containers (glass, cans and plastic bottles).

The report found that, in the current market, kerbside sort schemes are more cost-effective for Local Authorities than single stream co-mingled. However, two stream co-mingled collections, where paper is kept separate, have similar net costs to kerbside sort schemes. Co-mingled schemes had generally been thought to be cheaper to run, but fare less well when the cost of sorting the material at a MRF is taken into account.

The study found that, contrary to the popular belief that co-mingling is more successful in collecting recyclable materials, what determines how much recycling people do, is the size of the containers they have to put it in.

Earlier work by WRAP found that kerbside sort schemes achieve higher quality recyclable materials than co-mingled collections, as there is less risk of non-recyclables being included. However, the report acknowledges that different areas have different needs and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all 'best scheme'. In fact, co-mingled schemes may be the best option in some areas - such as inner cities, where on-street parking prevents kerbside sorting and there are lots of multi-occupancy houses where it is difficult to store multiple containers.

Phillip Ward, Director for Local Government Services at WRAP, said - “The aim of this study is to provide a benchmark to help local authorities understand the cost of a good recycling system. The results will help the authorities understand how to limit the cost of the service to householders."

He added - “Collection scheme costs are sensitive to many things - such as the price which can be achieved for recycled material - and new technology means that material sorted by MRFs is likely to improve in quality. This means it would be wrong to assume that one type of collection scheme is always going to be cheaper or produce better quality material than another.

“For any recycling scheme to be successful, it needs to be easy to use, reliable, flexible and to manage health and safety risks. Above all, it must be effectively communicated, so householders are motivated to use it, buy in to the service and are able to raise issues and problems knowing these will be dealt with.”

To download the report - 'Kerbside Recycling: Indicative Costs and Performance' - Click Here