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Refuse Collection: Issues to Consider

Reference Number: MTAS-1469
Reviewed Date: 03/22/2023

When a private firm is able to undercut a municipality’s cost of collection and still earn enough profit to make the contract desirable, it is because the firm has paid attention to the following:

  • Proper routing;
  • Proper equipment selection;
  • Proper staffing;
  • Proper training; and
  • Economy of scale


These are all items that a municipality can address if the policy decision is made to do so.

Appropriate planning, especially on collection routing, is critical to the municipality’s competitiveness. The collection environment should be studied carefully, and suitable vehicles with the correct staffing selected to meet the need. Higher equipment prices and automation, for instance, are not necessarily the answer.

One of the most common problems with competitive residential collection is the over-manning of municipal collection vehicles. Having too many employees lowers individual productivity and increases cost of service.

Preventative maintenance is an area where municipalities must guard against falling short. Solid waste collection equipment is a major capital investment. Successful private sector enterprises recognize this. They also recognize that preventative maintenance programs have proven to more than pay for themselves. Equipment will last longer, allow crews to perform at peak efficiency, and not be subject to costly and annoying down time.

Private firms also recognize the value of accurate record keeping for making sound management decisions. Having complete records aids in route planning, staffing, and equipment selection.

Thorough employee and management training is another key area where cities need to take a note of private firm operations.

Once again, policy decisions come into play, but curbside collection allows the municipality to provide service at the lowest cost to the public. A curbside collection route with bagged garbage can be served by a one-person crew in a dual controlled side loader. Bagged trash in a side loader can cut the collector’s steps in half compared to city rollouts or customer containers.