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<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Collection and transfer

1.3.5 Technical, regional, and development issues and criteria

In collection, as in any of the other topic areas, it is critical that both the "hard" aspects of the system (set-out containers, vehicles, and transfer points) and the "soft issues" (scheduling, fee systems, and legal framework) be geographically and socio-economically appropriate to the setting. This is perhaps the single most important factor in achieving sound practice in solid waste collection. It is fair to say that no collection system designed without taking these factors into account can be expected to arrive at sound practice, or even to function acceptably. Some examples of points to consider are given below.

Geography, settlement pattern, and cultural preferences

Collection and transfer vehicles must take into account terrain, climate, and settlement pattern. For example, the use of open trucks or carts is often appropriate in dry climates, but there should be both dust control and the option to cover loads in the rainy season or when it is windy. If such vehicles are piled high with waste, the waste will fall off, thus greatly reducing the efficacy of the collection system.

In selecting a vehicle, an important consideration is the density of housing stock and the split between single- and multi-family dwellings, which affect how often the vehicle will have to stop. Street layout, grades, traffic, and road surfaces affect how easy it is to maneuver.

Compactor trucks work poorly in extremely wet climates, where wastes are often wet and dense. Compactor trucks in this situation tend to squeeze out the moisture and discharge leachate onto the street. Also, in coal- burning areas wastes are high in ash, which cannot be compacted much further. The industrialized country models of compactor collection with several crew members may be the appropriate goal in industrialized or rapidly modernizing cities with formal streets that are wide enough for such trucks. In some cases, compactor trucks are feasible when paired with a small satellite collection vehicle, such as a propane- or muscle-driven cart, that collects waste from congested areas and brings it to the truck.

Cultural attitudes towards waste can govern frequency of set-out or choice of set-out container system. Vehicle traditions and the availability of drivers affect the choice of vehicle. Cultural considerations also include whether it is acceptable for people to see the waste in the vehicle or whether it should be immediately hidden from view; whether it is offensive to hear an announcement of the truck's arrival; the issue of who can handle waste and under what circumstances, and what point of set-out is acceptable. It is worth noting that cultural attitudes are sometimes altered through education, to some extent.

Waste composition and characterization

A frequent error in the set-up of collection and transfer systems is to assume that all waste streams are alike. The composition of the waste stream varies not only seasonally, but within ethnic and social divisions in the same country. Between countries, hemispheres, and continents, there is rather large variation.

In low-income countries, waste is usually very high in organics, because other constituents are removed either before set-out or between set-out and collection. High-income countries, by contrast, tend to have a lower proportion of organic waste but more paper, plastic, metal, and glass.


Where there is variation on many of these points within a single jurisdiction, cities, particularly those in developing countries, may need to have several collection systems, geared to the varying infrastructure and socioeconomic status of the different service areas. Hybrid systems combining muscle and mechanical power are frequently appropriate. Sometimes the best approach is to adapt a system or combination of systems and to tailor them to the needs of the community. Community leaders should be consulted on the design of the systems under their jurisdiction.

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