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Curbside Recycling Pilot Programs

The Jefferson-Belmont Regional Solid Waste Authority conducted two Pilot Curbside Programs for two Communities in our District.

The two Pilot Curbside Recycling Programs began in November 2013, one in the Buena Vista, Cunningham Lane and Alexander Manor neighborhoods of Steubenville,  the other in the First Ward area of Martins Ferry.  Volunteering participants received an informational packet and a recycling bin with an identification number to use to put their recyclable materials into.  Participants were asked to put their paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, plastic jugs, beverage and food cans in the bins with recyclable materials at the curb on Fridays in Steubenville, and on Tuesdays in Martins Ferry, for collection by a JB Green Team recycling truck.  Glass bottles and jars were to be placed in the “Glass only” drop-off bins placed near the neighborhoods.  The glass bins are located at the Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville and the Martins Ferry City Garage.

We would like to thank those residents who took part in the trial. Out of the 800 households invited to participate 400 signed up, by April an average of only 230 households were participating in the weekly curbside collections.  Both curbside programs ended the last week of April 2014.

The goals of the trials were to:

  1. Provide a third party evaluation of the financial costs and revenues of a limited curbside recycling trial program.

  2. Determine the community participation rate of a curbside recycling program.

  3. Determine the feasibility of expanding the curbside recycling program city wide.

  4. Determine if a limited subsidization by the Authority is justified based upon the 2008 Solid Waste Plan guidelines.

After review of the financial data by the Authority Board of Trustees, the following summation was released to both Communities for evaluation of instituting a city wide Curb Side program.

Summary of Trial Results:

  • Duration six months (November 2013 – April 2014) 23 weeks

  • Labor two men (one driver & one helper)

  • Route Mileage 41 – 43 miles (corrected to eliminate mileage to cell)

  • Operational Costs $5,274 – $5,456 (labor, fuel, tires, maintenance)

  • Collection Total Costs $8,753 – $9,052 (operational, dep., capital, admin)

  • Tonnage Collected 23.13 –  24.73 tons (51.67% of combined shipments)

  • Collection Costs $213.24  – $235.91/ ton (operational costs / tonnage collected)

  • Shipping Costs $39.46 / ton (66 yard compactor box)

  • Net Processing Revenue $38.32 / ton (Greenstar / Waste Management)

As you can see, the shipment costs per ton are almost in balance with the Net Revenue per ton but the cost of collections per ton is prohibitive. Why are the collection costs so excessive? Lack of voluntary participation is the major contributor to the high cost of collections. The test area was selected to have 400 homes in a select area with almost 600 possible participants. Of these 400 potential homes only 200 homes agreed to participate in each community . Of the homes that agreed to participate only 53% – 59.1% did participate in the two City’s. Basically that means that we only picked up, on average, about one home in five in the select trial area. Since the truck holds from 6 – 8 tons and we averaged a little over 1 ton per load there was more than sufficient room to collect from all 600 possible participants in the trial area.

Assuming 100% participation (mandatory program) the cost per ton would estimate at $89.94 per ton or about $0.86 per household every other * week. Some communities charge customers $2.00 – $4.00 per month for recycling whether the citizens participate or not. The greatest area of community gain is the reduction in costs on the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) collections due to the trash volume collection reductions.

*Note: It was noted during the trial that based upon volumes collected every week, that every other week would be sufficient in the large 65 gal container used in the trial.

Summary of Potential Solid Waste Cost Reductions:


  • The community has a great participation rate or is willing to impose a mandatory recycling program.

  • The community leaders are able to provide an incentive program to significantly increase community participation.

  • The community households only need to be picked up every other week.

  • The national average for the generation of HSW is one ton per year per average sized family.

  • As measured by volume the average generation of MSW is about 50% recycle materials.

  • As measured by weight we will assume that the average generation of MSW is about 40% recycled materials.

  • Collection Trucks are filled with volume not weight. So if you remove 50% of the volume by curb side recycling, a truck can theoretically collect from twice as many homes before having to empty.

  • With half the volume collected, the compactor would theoretically also fill up half as fast thus requiring half as many trips to the landfill.

  • The tipping charges at the landfill would also be theoretically half the total costs per year.

  • The run times per home may not change as much since city workers are still touching the wastes at the every home but they will be only half as full and/or half as heavy and/or half as many containers or bags per home.

Potential Savings:
Evaluation of performance data is difficult for someone on the outside of the collection operations; however, we attempted to suggest possible savings areas for the total cost of MSW collections for the City’s.
Any savings calculations have to be based on the voluntary participation of a significant majority of citizens to separate their recycling materials from the MSW, or the community leader’s willingness to provide an incentive to participate in a significant majority, or the community’s willingness to impose a mandatory participation program.

Assuming 100% participation in the program; Starting with the significant reduction in the cost to transport the MSW to the landfill and the corresponding tipping fee reductions, the potential savings could be $108 K per year. Given the assumptions listed above.

The savings for the collection routes costs is totally dependent on the efficient re-drawing of the routes and labor requirements to take advantage of the reduction of volumes in the trucks.

However, “if” the existing routes could be consolidated into say three days each week then the same manpower and vehicles may be able to collect the recycling materials on the other two days every other week. It is a given that the number of trips to each customer would be doubled every other week and obviously doubling route mileage and with some increase in total labor hours every other week.

The participation rate in the trial does not support a curbside recycling program. The cost to ship and process the collected recycling materials is balanced in today’s commodity market, but the cost to collect from limited participating homes is prohibitive.

Mandatory Program:
If the participation in the program is mandatory then up to $108 K could be realized through transport and tipping fee volume reductions.

Based upon trial collection costs, a bi-weekly mandatory recycling program could be collected for about $2.00 per month per household if the same city trucks are used and additional labor costs of the city are not out of line with the Authority labor costs.

Some measure of additional savings may be possible through improved route efficiencies taking advantage of the reduced MSW collection volumes.

Voluntary Program:

If the participation in a curbside recycling program is voluntary then only a fraction of the potential $108 K savings would be realized from the transportation and tipping fee volume reductions.

Based upon the trial collection costs, a voluntary recycling program would be much more costly depending on the participation rate. If the level of participation is no better than the trial then the costs would probably be prohibitive.

Incentive Programs:
To bolster voluntary programs or even enhance mandatory curbside recycling programs there are designed consumer cost sharing programs which might add incentive to participating in a city wide program. The concept is called Pay as you Throw.

The concept is that a city will base its monthly MSW disposal charge by the size of the container used or number of containers or bags per collection.

65 Gal container MSW $9 / mo
35 Gal container MSW $5 / mo
Each Additional bag or container MSW $5 / mo
65 Gal container Recycling Materials $2 / mo

The curbside recycling container is obviously the least costly option to dispose of your household volumes.
The national results have been very favorable and any community that has tried it has not reversed or retired from the program.

The above analysis is based upon a basic understanding of city MSW collections, and a six month curbside trial, and is not intended to be a road map of “how to”. Labor contracts, maintenance records, and fuel considerations are critical to determining re-drawn route cost reduction potentials. The participation of the citizens of your community is the overwhelming determinate of a successful curbside program.

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