About UNEP
United Nations Environment Programme
Division of Technology, Industry and Economics
top image
space space space

Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Collection and transfer

1.3.6 Economic, institutional, and legislative elements or sound practice


It is often true in developing countries that neither private nor public collectors are held accountable for the extent of waste removal on their route, and their compensation is not tied to their performance. There are typically few, if any, individuals in government who are accountable to their constituents for system performance.

Accountability is crucial to adequate MSWM systems. Government has the ultimate responsibility for public health and welfare, and this makes governments ultimately accountable for the performance and adequacy of the MSWM system. Governments can choose to transfer operations to the private sector, but performance must be monitored and ensured through contractual guarantees. The government retains ultimate accountability.

A secondary level of accountability is that which the collection service organization owes to the generators. The organization and individuals doing the collection are accountable for collecting, transporting, and discharging the waste or materials in a manner consistent with their contract, with ethical practices, and with environmental and public health regulations. They are accountable to their clients, who pay indirectly through taxes or directly through fees, for the removal service.

Optimization of available resources

In general, the best collection practices are context sensitive, eclectic, and make optimal use of a range of local resources, from labor to institutional arrangements. Local resources include the commercial formal and informal sectors operating in the region; the deployment of these resources should be carefully considered as part of the planning process.

Privatization and support of the formal sector
Privatization involving contracting to formal-sector waste management companies often brings significant resources to the solid waste collection arena, and can represent an important element in sound practice. Privatization is sometimes mistakenly seen as a way to solve all of a government's waste management problems.

Privatization of waste collection generally involves the responsible government contracting out collection services to one or more private sector operators. There is competition at the point of securing the contract, but once a contract or a franchise is awarded, the contractor receives a managed monopoly from the government. When these arrangements are well managed and free of corruption, they can deliver a high level of cost-effective service often higher than the government could provide using its own workers.

By contrast, some privatization efforts have entailed the total retreat of the municipal government from the waste management business. In this circumstance, there is no management by government: private collection firms must go directly to generators and contract with individuals. This tends to create redundant systems, where multiple trucks roll down the same streets, with each picking up from only a few of the contiguous residents. The resulting scale effects are very unfavorable, which means that fees tend to be high, and smaller firms are likely to fail or become the target of corporate takeover. This can lead rapidly to an unmanaged monopoly situation, and waste collection costs can become quite startlingly expensive.

Support to the informal sector
Local authorities can make good use of available resources by contracting to small-scale waste collection enterprises, and by providing support and recognition to waste pickers and itinerant collectors, effectively allowing their activities to be included in the overall MSWM system. This is particularly important when new waste services are being introduced, or where existing systems are being upgraded or modernized.

Sound practice in this arena is illustrated by the waste cooperatives for materials recovery and reuse in place in many regions of Asia and Latin America. These coops or associations employ workers (who might otherwise be waste picking without equipment or recognition) to separate wastes at sources, collect recyclable materials, and transport them to the collection centers for processing and sale.

Fiscal commitment

The primary motivation for MSW collection is the need to remove noxious, unpleasant, toxic, or dangerous materials from households and public spaces and thoroughfares. While private sector organizations have a role in the waste management sector, sound practice virtually always requires a fiscal commitment from some level of government to design, finance, create, and maintain the MSWM system. In the case of collection, this means that the collection system must be adequately capitalized, operated, and maintained.

Once the commitment to create the system is made, sound practice calls for the authority to make a set of decisions on how to finance the system and the extent to which costs of the system should be recovered directly from specific beneficiaries.

There is a great deal of interest at the present time in cost recovery systems for waste collection and disposal. In some places this is taking the form of "pay per bag" or volume-based fees, where generators pay for what they throw away. In some cases, such a system has led to increased illegal dumping or burning of waste. In most countries, municipalities are still more likely to levy a flat fee included in a utility bill, or to simply pay for services out of taxes. It is probably true that any sound practice will include these three components:

  • a fiscal commitment to capitalize, maintain, and operate the collection system, including public financing of the fixed system capacity;
  • a way to recover all or part of the variable costs of collection from its beneficiaries; and
  • a monitoring and accounting system that can calculate and deliver such critical pieces of information as cost per stop, cost per ton, and cost per route-day for collection, and cost per ton and cost per year for transfer.

Unambiguous jurisdiction

Many technically adequate waste management systems have failed because of conflicting bureaucratic claims or unclear jurisdictional boundaries. Regardless of the status of the overall system, collection systems must have clear accountability linked to service area. Anyone in the service area must know what body has jurisdiction over their collection, and how to give feedback to that system.

Table of Contents

  • Brochure
  • IETC Brochure

  • International Year of Forests
  • International Year of Forests

  • World Environment Day
  • ??????

  • UNEP Campaign
  • UNite to Combat Climate Change