Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A Cross-Canada Analysis of the Efficiency of Residential Recycling Services

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A Cross-Canada Analysis of the Efficiency of Residential Recycling Services

Article excerpt

The primary objective of this article is to investigate the factors that predict the efficiency of residential recycling collection services in Canadian local governments. The core of the article is a quantitative analysis of national survey data obtained from local government recycling managers. Assessing the factors that are related to the efficiency of residential recycling programs is important because residential recycling collection has emerged as a significant component of local government strategies to reduce landfill waste, improve ratios of waste recovered to waste produced, and support provincial and local government environmental policies. (1)

In addition, recycling services are relatively expensive, particularly when compared to residential solid-waste collection. Ina previous analysis of the cross-Canada recycling data on which this article is in part based, the net cost of residential recycling was estimated to be $124.39 per tonne, compared to $48.01 per tonne for residential solid-waste collection (McDavid and Laliberte 1999). (2) Other studies have suggested a similar divergence (e.g., Khator and Huffman 1993; Caroll 1997; Franklin Associates, Ltd. 1994; Stevens 1994).

Although high-income countries appear to be willing to pay for recycling programs--citizens sometimes protest when they are cut back (Ackerman 2005)--it is worthwhile building our understanding of why recycling services are more or less efficient. Given the increasing policy emphasis on "green agendas" at all three levels of government in Canada, this article addresses a research gap and is relevant to policy-makers at the federal and provincial levels of government and, in particular, to local government managers.

The article is organized into four sections. A brief review of previous research highlights clusters of factors that are related to recycling costs in other studies. The methodology of the cross-Canada survey and, in particular, the methods used to calculate the net costs of recycling and composting services are presented next. The third section presents key findings, using tables to display key relationships, and a multivariate model that estimates the linkages between and among predictors of the unit costs of recycling and composting. Finally, conclusions and implications of the findings are discussed. This article highlights and ranks variables that are important in predicting the net (combined) costs of residential recycling and composting services.

Previous research

Previous research can be organized to reflect the underlying question in this analysis: what combination of factors directly and indirectly predicts the efficiency of residential recycling/composting operations in Canadian local governments? First, descriptions of how efficiency has been defined are summarized, followed by summaries of studies that relate factors or clusters of factors to efficiency. The order in which these factors are discussed is as follows: local government demographics, regulations, production arrangements (principally whether the services are produced by public or private (contracted) organizations), production technologies, management and human resource factors, service levels, and productivity.

Efficiency of recycling services

Existing studies have used different measures for the costs and efficiency of recycling programs. For example, in a report to the Wisconsin legislature efficiency was defined as the monetary cost per unit of output, while effectiveness referred to outcomes or benefits, such as the reduction in waste generation (Wisconsin, Department of Natural Resources 2001). Most of the articles reviewed use this or similar definitions of efficiency; however, there is a divergence regarding what unit of output is measured. Some authors have investigated the costs of recycling per household (e.g., Caroll 1995; Deyle and Schade 1991; Lund 1990). …

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