Energy, greenhouse gas, and cost reductions for municipal recycling systems

Mikhail Chester, Elliot Martin, Nakul Sathaye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Curbside recycling programs can be more cost-effective than landfilling and lead to environmental benefits from the recovery of materials. Significant reductions in energy and emissions are derived from the decrease of energy-intensive production with virgin materials. In many cities, competing priorities can lead to limited consideration given to system optimal collection and processing strategies that can drive down costs and increase revenue while simultaneously reducing system energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We evaluate three alterations to a hypothetical California city's recycling network to discern the conditions under which the changes constitute system improvements to cost, energy, and emissions. The system initially operates with a collection zoning scheme that does not mitigate the impact of seasonal variations in consumer tonnage. In addition, two collection organizations operate redundantly, collecting recyclables from different customer types on the same street network. Finally, the system is dual stream, meaning recyclables are separated at the curbside. In some scenarios, this practice can limit the consumer participation rate leading to lower collection quantities. First, we evaluate a "business as usual" (BAU) scenario and find that the system operates at a $1.7 M/yr loss but still avoids a net 18.7 GJ and 1700 kg of greenhouse gas equivalent (GGE) per ton of material recycled. Second, we apply an alternative zoning scheme for collection that creates a uniform daily pickup demand throughout the year reducing costs by $0.2 M/yr, energy by 30 MJ/ton, and GHG emissions by 2 kg GGE/on. Next, the two collection organizations are consolidated into a single entity further reducing vehicle fleet size and weekly vehicle miles traveled resulting in savings from BAU of $0.3 M/yr, 100 MJ/ton, and 8 kg GGE/ton. Lastly, we evaluate a switch to a single-stream system (where recyclables are commingled). We show that single-stream recycling can increase the total amount of material collected to a degree that lowers overall net cost ($0.2 M/yr) and leads to further reductions in energy use (210 MJ/ton) and emissions(16 kg GGE/ton). However, there can be circumstances in which maintaining a consolidated dual stream system is preferred over single stream. A sensitivity analysis is also performed and a discussion is presented addressing the applicability of this city network to others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2142-2149
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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