4 Tips for Creating a Better Waste Management Plan

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Author: David Stead
Principal and Vice President

Recycling and waste management should be implemented as a resource management system, not a waste management system. As recycling programs began to be implemented in the 1970s and 1980s they were thought of as part of the solid waste collection system. Recycling programs were expected to cover their costs in a manner similar to waste collection programs: through user fees or local taxes. This often resulted in recycling program costs and revenues incorporated into the overall waste collection system, even when the increase in recycling resulted in a reduction in overall system costs, especially where disposal costs were high. Today the approach that is considered a “best practice” is to view recyclables as commodities that are managed under a resource management system consistent with management frameworks such as “sustainable materials management” and “zero waste”.

#1. Stop Thinking Waste Management – Think Sustainable Materials Management

A resource management plan is part of an integrated materials management strategy, in which a municipality makes deliberate decisions about how materials should flow. The plan elements then become specific tactics to deal with specific materials after they have been consumed. Those elements include:

  • Prevention
  • Reuse
  • Generation
  • Source Separation (recyclables and organics)
  • Recovery
  • Collection
  • Transfer
  • Recycling
  • Treatment
  • Disposal

It can also define the approaches to contracting for services and funding program services. The key program areas that are incorporated in effective resource management plans include:

  • Single Stream Recycling
  • Commercial Recycling
  • Organic and Food Waste Recovery
  • Multi-family Recycling
  • Away from Home and Special Event Recycling
  • Waste Awareness and ‘How to Recycle’ Communications

#2. Planning is a Process – Not an Event

A plan is the framework that helps us identify our starting point (where are we now), our objective (where do we want to be in the future), the way to reach our objective (how are we going to get there) and finally the way to recognize progress (what should we measure to know we’ve moved the needle). The performance of a plan in meeting its objectives must be evaluated and taken forward as a major input into further planning cycles. The objective should be to ensure sustainable improvements to service coverage and standards for managing all recovered resources. Strategic planning offers the opportunity to deliver sustainable improvements to local waste management practices because it can respond to the ever changing waste and recovered materials markets.

#3. Take a Collaborative Approach

Public-Private Partnerships for Service Delivery (PPPSD) is one of the proven approaches to resource management planning. The main objective of the program is to promote sustainable, self-supporting partnerships between businesses and local governments to support the formation and operation of new enterprise-municipal co-operation in solid waste management and recycling systems.

The main goal of the program is to stimulate improved co-operation between public, private and citizen stakeholders that: contributes to sustainable improvement of recycling and solid waste management; minimizes negative effects of waste in poor communities; and improves the lives and livelihoods of people and enterprises in cities and rural communities.

#4. Avoid the Scenic Route to the Landfill

Diversion from landfills has become a major driver for many resource management plans and recycling programs, with some states and municipalities even operating under legislative requirements for achieving specific diversion goals. However, when poorly sorted materials are counted as “diverted” from local landfills, but end up landfilled by manufacturers because they are not usable, they simply made a longer trip to the Landfill.  Verifying the fate of materials recovered from municipal recycling programs is critical to determining the actual diversion rate. Recycling programs should know the quantity of materials were usable in the production of recyclable products.

In order to ensure an optimally functioning whole recycling system, local governments must provide for recycling services that sustain all parts of the cycle, not just collection. Local governments must specify collection, processing and marketing requirements in their requests for services and in their local ordinances for hauler and recovery service providers. Throughout the planning and implementation for resource management programs, stakeholder input and feedback is critical and must include the manufacturing end markets for recovered resources.

Ultimately, the goal of recycling programs should be to maximize the recyclability of all its materials.

What practices have you seen in waste management planning? Tell us in the comments section below.