Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>
Collection and transfer
Significance of collection, transfer, and street
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
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
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.
|Men like these, who belong to the Yellow Brigade, move waste from
households to a transfer point in the two-tier collection system of
(credit; Antonio Fernandez)
|In Latin America, women are often involved in small-scale collection
(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
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.
|This overflowing communal collection container in Accra typifies the
lack of attention given to collection in low-income areas throughout the
(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
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.