Optimization of the Blue Box Material Processing System


“We were thoroughly impressed with RRS’s ability to not only develop a comprehensive model of such a complicated recovery system, but also to work with the diverse stakeholders involved in the project to create a cohesive understanding and a realistic strategy for approaching the results of the study.” – Mike Birett, Director Continuous Improvement Fund.

The Client

The Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF) is a program developed through a partnership among the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the City of Toronto, Stewardship Ontario and Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO). Its mandate is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Ontario’s municipal Blue Box program.

The Challenge

In 2010, CIF undertook a review of the existing publically owned Material Recovery Facilities in Ontario and wished to expand the investigation to determine a more optimized processing system. The purpose of the study was to analyze a theoretically optimized transfer and processing network, including location and capacity of each of the facilities, along with capital and operating costs.

The Solution

  • Our team profiled the current material volumes that were generated and collected across the province in 2012 so that projections can be made for 2025.  Our projections showed a likely shift to a lighter, less dense recycling stream.
  • By taking the projections and breaking them down by jurisdiction and geo-locating all the current facilities, our team was able to model material flows from point of delivery to final shipment from a MRF, model all cost inputs and model performance metrics to develop an existing system profile.
  • Our team completed a “best practices” evaluation for all processing cost inputs for MRF and transfer station design and operation which showed significant potential savings by moving to high throughput, highly mechanized single or dual-stream MRFs.
  • Our team profiled a “greenfields” waste shed system that identified optimum number and location of MRFs and transfer stations in an environment free from competitive forces.
  • Leveraging our team’s cross-functional strengths of strategic planning, geo-spatial analysis, and MRF design and operation, we assessed how the province would begin to move to an optimal system, given the infrastructure currently in place, effects on collection costs and existing contracts.

Results and Successes

The RRS team developed a model that integrated state-of-the-art MRF design with transportation logistics to develop an optimum hub and spoke system. The model determined the total capital and operational costs for numerous scenarios utilizing varying degrees of existing infrastructure. The model showed that a fully optimized system could save up to 25% in transfer and processing costs and reduce the number of MRFs from 55 to 9, assuming that competitive and contracting hurdles could be overcome. The model was developed in ArcGIS and can be used to analyze not only systems at the province level, but also determining cost effective solutions for groups of local governments.