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United Nations Environment Programme
Division of Technology, Industry and Economics
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Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Collection and transfer

1.3.1 Introduction

Significance of collection, transfer, and street sweeping

When most people think about garbage, what they visualize is the collection of their waste. Collection is the only part of waste management which virtually everyone sees and is involved with.

Collection is also by far the largest cost element in most MSWM systems, accounting for 60-70% of costs in industrialized countries, and 70-90% of costs in developing and transition countries. Collection and street sweeping together comprise the single largest category of expenditure in many municipal budgets. Failure or inadequacy of collection, especially in developing countries where there is frequently considerable human fecal waste in the municipal solid waste, can lead to threats to public health.

Given its high visibility and importance, one would expect that collection would also receive a high degree of scrutiny and analysis, and, as a consequence, would be a highly efficient municipal or private operation. In fact, particularly in developing countries, the opposite is quite often true. Waste collection and street sweeping are often highly inefficient. Workers are often poorly motivated, untrained, under-compensated, and unnoticed. Further obstacles to efficiency are obsolete or nonfunctional equipment and routes which have not kept pace with urban growth. Up to half of the poorer sections of developing cities are underserved or completely unserved.

In some industrialized countries, waste collection has received more attention recently, partly due to the introduction of source separated collection of recyclables in North America and organics in Europe. The testing and analysis which has accompanied the development, introduction, and monitoring of separate collection has often had positive spin-off effects on collection of the rest of the waste. In developing countries, an influx of loans and grants for infrastructure development is just beginning to affect collection systems, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.

A further problem is that waste collection is often in a jurisdictional no-man's-land, where fiscal, operational, and administrative responsibility are fragmented between public health, public works, and public cleansing departments, with budgetary and operational responsibility in conflict. The association with waste often means that waste collection functions have low status, and managers and supervisors do not get training, support, or recognition.

Overview of waste collection

It is fair to say that every MSWM system (except backyard composting or burying the waste in one's own back yard) includes collection in some form or other.

Collection in industrialized, transition, and developing countries
While collection is structurally similar in developing, transition, and industrialized countries, there are important technical and institutional differences in implementation. In most cases, the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the Balkans resemble industrialized countries more than developing ones in terms of their approach to collection, the role of the municipal governments, informal collectors, and private-sector operators, and demographic and social factors relevant to collection. Where they are not specifically mentioned, it should be assumed that transition countries are included in the discussion of industrialized countries.

In developing countries, collection often involves a face to face transaction between generator and collector. The level of service is low, and the generators often have to bring their wastes long distances and place them in containers that are sometimes difficult to use.

Many collection activities involve the informal sector: unregistered micro- or small-businesses; poor individuals; squatters or recent arrivals from the country with no papers or who are outside of the social safety net: these people subsist by culling valuable materials from the waste stream and processing them into intermediate or consumer products.

 

Moving Waste from Houshold to Transfer Point
Men like these, who belong to the Yellow Brigade, move waste from households to a transfer point in the two-tier collection system of Surabaya, Indonesia.
(credit; Antonio Fernandez)
Woman Collecting Wastes
In Latin America, women are often involved in small-scale collection enterprises.
(credit; Alvaro Cantanhede)


The use of muscle-powered vehicles, including wagons, animal-drawn carts, or rickshaws, is common. Payment either for service (from generator to collector) or for materials (from collector to generator) is often involved. The practical aspects of collection routing, set-out practices, vehicles, collection schedule arehighly variable, involve primarily manual labor, often of women and children, and depend on specific circumstances.

In most developing countries and cities, there are many areas that receive no collection at all. For example, collection may miss large areas of poor or squatter settlements; areas that are hilly; neighborhoods with unpaved or impassable streets; or whole areas where houses are too close together for collection vehicles to get through.

The boundary between collection of materials for disposal and recovery in developing countries tends to be blurred, and recoverable materials may be separated during the collection process. The same people waste collection crews, waste pickers, or independent buyers may be involved in both collection of waste and separation and recovery of materials.

A common aspect of collection in developing countries is chronic and acute lack of adequate service, particularly in poor or marginal areas. This, combined with the relatively large volume of human and animal fecal matter, means that waste collection has a direct link to public health and sanitation in developing countries: collection failure can lead directly to injury and disease.

In industrialized countries, collection tends to be more anonymous, professionalized, and institutionalized, although at the margins, especially in terms of materials recovery, there is plenty of waste picking and salvage work. There tends to be universal service, at least officially, and rarely are sections of a city completely unserved.

Most collection is performed by public employees or firms under contract to the government or to business and industrial waste producers. For efficiency reasons, collection tends to occur early in the morning, using closed compactor trucks. Collection efficiency is important, as is the invisibility of collection and its lack of impact on formal daily life. Recovery systems tend to be separate from waste collection systems, and to involve different sets of actors.

In industrialized countries some form of collection generally reaches all or most of the population at some level of effectiveness. Waste may not be collected often enough, but it is collected.

Communal collection points. In parts of many developing countries and some industrialized countries, residents carry their waste to a container at a "communal collection point." "Collection point" is also used, particularly in industrialized countries, to mean a point to which recyclable materials can be brought. Communal collection is very common in developing countries, particularly in areas that are difficult to serve, or in poor areas that municipal authorities are unwilling or unable to serve with door-to-door waste collection.

Payment for collection or materials
Collection may or may not involve payment in either direction. The term "collection fee" describes the situation where the individual disposing of the waste or materials, or an organization representing individuals or a community, must pay the collector to have the materials collected and removed.

In cases where the collected materials have intrinsic value, the collector often pays the generator for the materials, either in cash or by barter, as was the case in Japan, where the paper collector would give out new rolls of toilet paper in return for waste paper. In certain cases, such as the Zabbaleen in Cairo, the collectors or collectors' organization must pay the city a concession fee for the right to collect and use materials.

 

Overflowing Communal Collection Container
This overflowing communal collection container in Accra typifies the lack of attention given to collection in low-income areas throughout the developing world.
(credit; Raymond Asomani-Boateng)


Overview of transfer

Transfer refers to the movement of waste or materials from the primary collection vehicle to a secondary, generally larger and more efficient, transport vehicle. While virtually all waste systems have collection, not all include transfer.

The point of transfer is referred to as a "transfer station" or "transfer point" in the Source Book. Primary collection vehicles bring their waste to a transfer station and dump it. It is then transferred, with or without compaction, to other vehicles for a longer haul to a disposal site. Transfer, which may include a short storage period, also provides a point of access to the waste or materials stream and an opportunity to remove certain materials or perform processing such as shredding, compacting, screening, wetting, or drying.

Overview of street sweeping and municipal cleansing

For purposes of the Source Book, municipal cleansing includes litter control and street sweeping. Street sweeping is a large enterprise, and typically represents as much as 20-30% of municipal public works budgets. Street sweeping may also include washing activities, but this section focuses on the more universal sweeping activity.

Street sweeping is the basic way streets, sidewalks, and public areas are kept clean. It is common for poor or marginal areas to receive reduced or inadequate service, or no service at all, while wealthier or tourist areas receive extensive service.

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