The generation and cost of litter resulting from the curbside collection of recycling

Waste Manag. 2016 Apr;50:3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.wasman.2016.02.004. Epub 2016 Feb 13.


This study examined the generation of litter, defined as spillage and uncollected residue, from a curbside collection system for residential recycling. The primary recycling containers used in the study were 18-gal (68 L), open-top bins. The study, conducted over a seven-week period, was comprised of both an urban and suburban area. Six litter characterizations were conducted in which all new litter larger than 1 in.(2) was collected, segregated, counted, and weighed. We found that each week the open-top recycling bins contributed approximately 20,590 pieces of litter over 1 in. in size per every 1000 households, which resulted in the generation of 3.74 tons of litter per 1000 households per year. In addition to the bins having no top, the primary root causes of the litter were constantly overflowing recycling bins, the method of collection, and material scavenging. Based on an estimated cost of litter cleanup ranging from $0.17 to $0.79 per piece of litter, the direct economic costs from the collection of litter and loss in recycling revenues were estimated at US$3920 to US$19,250 per 1000 households per year. Other notable impacts from the litter, such as increased risk of flood damage from storm drain impairment and marine ecosystem damages exist, but were not monetized. The results strongly suggest that modification of the curbside collection system would decrease the amount and associated cost of litter by replacing existing curbside collection containers with larger volume containers with covers and by modifying the task-based incentive system to emphasize litter prevention rather than the current aim of completing the task most quickly.

Keywords: Collection containers; Curbside collection; Litter; Marine litter; Municipal solid waste; Recycling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Maine
  • Recycling / economics*
  • Refuse Disposal / economics*