Automated Drop-off Centres Cheaper than Curbside Collection

The popularity and success of drop-off recycling centres continues to grow throughout Canada. Historically, drop-off systems have been poorly planned, reactionary measures that marginalized community recycling. As a result, these systems recovered 70 per cent less than curbside systems and usually required staffing to prevent contamination and vandalism.

In 1991, the City of Calgary compared the “Haul-All” drop-off program to a curbside collection program in a 14-month pilot study to determine costs, public acceptance levels, and recovery rates. Based on an innovative depot design and high community awareness, the study proved that drop-off recycling could produce high recovery rates in communitiesincluding multi-family and high-density sectorsat a fraction of the cost of curbside programs. The study lead to the implementation of full-scale drop-off recycling programs in several Alberta cities including Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. This trend has continued across Canada.

The heightened popularity of these systems is the result of several factors, including significant operational cost savings, recovery, and material quality rates equivalent to curbside collection.

Operational savings are achieved through automation of the collection process, which results in higher efficiency and dramatically reduced labor costs normally associated with collection. The study showed that the projected cost of drop-off ($118 per tonne) was siginifcantly lower than curbside ($213 to $243 per tonne).

Innovative collection trucks, the use of moderate compaction on mixed paper and cans and very high compaction on plastics and cardboard provide significant collection efficiencies. Properly integrated, drop-off systems can also reduce MRF sorting costs by operating in a source-separated mode.

Written by Doug Vanderlinden, president of VQuip Inc. in Burlington, Ontario. Chart data provided by Dennis Neufeldt, president of Haul-All Equipment Systems in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Tonnes (1) Total Households Recovery Rate
Recovered All Forms (2) kg/hh/year
Calgary, Alberta 40,441 312,092 129.58
Medicine Hat, Alberta 2,613 19,600 133.31
Lethbridge, Alberta 3,505 23,320 150.30

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