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Expect the Extraordinary.



DATE: August 2019

Director, Resiliency Solutions, APTIM

Project Management Specialist, APTIM


For 30+ years, many countries, including the U.S., have been sending plastic waste to China instead of recycling it in their own countries. Between 1988 and 2016, the U.S. sent approximately 26.7 million tons of plastics out of the country. In January 2018, China passed the National Sword policy, which banned the importation of plastic. Without proper infrastructure and rising prices for processing domestically, much of the recycling in the U.S. is effectively ending up in the garbage. The good news about this ban is that it added pressure to develop innovative solutions for the U.S. to recycle domestically.

As a Platform Partner for the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program, APTIM works directly with 100RC Chief Resilience Officers to aide cities who are looking to start or further develop resiliency programs in their communities. In 2018, the City of Chicago informed 100RC they wanted to incorporate new and innovative approaches into their solid waste and recycling contracts. Our team was chosen to help gather research as to current best practices and provide the City with innovative initiatives and state-of-the-art efficient solutions to address the challenges directly caused by the restrictions imposed by China. Our research uncovered many practices that offer practical and effective alternatives.


Digital Applications

Prior to the collection of data, normally there is an agreement on or mandate for the use of a digital platform like Re-TRAC, a municipal measurement program. These systems collect performance information on numerous aspects of a project, e.g. trucks and collection performance, diagnostics, location, and other real-time information. They also provide documentation and evidence when the agency must comply with state regulations on items like waste diversion (the utilization of waste processing other than landfilling) or if a contractor receives incentive-based compensation for increasing waste diversion. Some regulations require or request that contractors provide reports on the amount of waste recycled and landfilled, names of the facilities used, and a log of reports regarding additional services performed. They may also include collection of records on performance indicators, company operations, finances, waste sources, characteristics, weights, and volumes.

Digital recycling applications are designed to track truck routes, distribute employees equally, and provide the most efficient routes to appropriate landfills and recycling facilities. One example of a company using smart digital applications of route distribution is Rubicon Global in Atlanta, GA. They helped develop a Global Positioning System (GPS) app to optimize the daily routes for their drivers. Pick-up can also be optimized using sensor monitors that indicate fill level. Monitors within waste containers, such as temperature and tilt, use communication nodes to transport data and the accompanying software suite to access, manage, and analyze the data. These applications yield less traffic congestion, lower emissions from fleet vehicles, and more frequent waste and recycling pickups. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology helps track assets in the field and can be used by haulers to confirm addresses have been serviced. Dispatchers can track adapted trucks and using advanced telematics systems, advise maintenance shops to issues as they occur, analyze truck status, and provide upcoming predictive maintenance needs avoiding less downtime and more costly repairs of those truck not fitted with RFID.

Proprietary systems allow users to conduct residential surveys to gather feedback on services, determine interest in innovative programs, or simply select a container size. For example, Rehrig Pacific Co. developed the Container Asset Recovery Tracking System (CARTS), which allows container shipment tracking and managing inventory levels at distribution centers. Container deliveries are recorded in real-time by using handheld scanners in conjunction with CARTS. It can generate daily distribution reports that include household address, container serial number, RFID tag number, type, size, date, and time of delivery. These surveys help facilities better address community needs with validated data.

UHF RFID-tagged waste and recycling carts transmit information including the address of the resident, name, and date to a reader located on the arm that lifts the carts for service. The cart’s chip also distinguishes whether the container holds waste or recycling. When the route is closed for the day, the information is collected, disseminated, and processed by the hauler’s software. The data can be used for billing as Lakeshore Recycling Systems in Morton Grove and Wheaton, IL is doing.

Digital applications also include the generation of electronic maps for collection areas detailing the day of the week residential recyclables will be collected which is then transmitted to the city. Maps may include route boundaries, route numbers, and truck numbers on the collection route. A typical condition, where recyclables collection is performed by someone different than the trash collector, is that they specify the contractor will comply with the days of collection for each residence.

Data suggests that residents be given a 96-gallon cart or provide a sufficient number of carts instead of increasing frequency of pickup service which reduces frequency for pickup as well as costs. It is also suggested that on the off-chance an expected pick is missed on the scheduled day of collection, a call-back service is established. In the event call-back service is not performed within the next working day after the vendor has received notice of the missed collection, the agency may collect and the vendor will pay city liquidated damages of a given amount per dwelling not serviced.

There are few challenges that have come from digital applications which include agencies asking for specific tools in proposals for work and private haulers resistant to share confidential information when, in most cases, the agency does not need the information.

Capital Improvements

Our research uncovered numerous processing facilities incorporate innovative technologies such as screens that help to sort commodities by type and size as well as robotic sorters which are capable of sorting twice as fast as people on the sorting line. The downside to this technology is cost when upgrades are needed. Although not typical, upgrades may be included as part of a contract and then become mandated to meet contract obligations. It is critical to know what is included in any contract to avoid costly obligations.

Contracting, Pricing, and Incentives

For all contracts, making sure the costs of hauling and processing, and what revenues can be gained from commodities is important and should be included. There should be provisions for contractors to pay a fee or reduce the fee charged to the agency if they change the facility without approval. For example Seattle, WA, charges a $2 per ton fee for switching facilities.

Additionally, the need for equipment, facilities, and understanding the impact of infrastructure on contractor pricing and service provision should be identified. Audits should be conducted to verify the accuracy of tonnage reports. Contractors should provide backup information for rate and fee increase requests and adjust pickup rates accordingly. In Portland, OR, municipalities have generally been amenable to request increased hauling fees or temporary surcharges, even in cases where contracts do not expire for many years.

There is also a trend towards increased tipping/processing fees for material delivery to the processing facility, with the trade-off of receiving a higher share of the revenue than in the past. In San Antonio, TX, they found the benefit of this structure is processors' costs are covered better and the processor has less financial risk, while the city benefits when markets improve. Billing by the ton is a practice implemented in Atlanta, GA and has been found to have similar benefits as it does in San Antonio. This type of pricing structure allows for more accurate accounting of waste collection amounts and diversion rates.

Durango, CO has implemented rebates for commodity sales or temporary surcharges for recycling customers. They have added a surcharge of $2.69 to cover costs incurred by recycling. It may be worth considering including financial rewards or incentives for those who comply with recycling codes. In San Francisco, CA, waste collection companies select a participating address and arrive unannounced to check recyclables to see if they are sorted correctly or have been thrown out improperly. If inspection yields acceptable results, Recology San Francisco will give a household a year of free waste collection service or if a multi-family residences and/or businesses they award $1,000 off their trash bill; there are 12 awards allotted.

And lastly, establish the composition of the recycling stream when pricing includes a revenue share on the material by random sampling of collected material to ensure the accuracy of material recycled.

Sorting and Waste Streams

There are four easy ways to improve waste sorting.

1. Stop accepting glass during pickup and create drop-off areas to service glass recycling.
Example: Now implemented in Atlanta, GA.

2. Evaluate how modifying streams can minimize contamination and consider the impact of using fines in addition to citations.

3. Consider requiring residents to segregate waste into two streams. Significant resident education and outreach would be required to segregate to two streams. Example: Concord, MA, dual stream recycling deposits plastic, glass, and metal containers in one bin, and paper in another. It is unclear whether the capital expense outweighs the savings and higher waste diversion rates brought on by single stream. There may be a reduction in contamination and associated sorting costs. In the local market, all Materials Recovery Facility (MRFs), which collect and sort recyclables and other materials, have been converted for single stream sorting, so sorting cost reductions would not likely be achieved.

4. Generate partnerships to increase what can be recycled. Example: Washington D.C. partnered with the Foodservice Packaging Institute to help educate and engage processors and end markets to gain acceptance of the recyclable materials, which expanded recyclable materials to include food service packaging.  

Contaminated Loads

Audits should be conducted to verify contractors do not accept contaminated loads and determine the accuracy of tonnage reports. These audits should include the possibility of contamination fees as a disincentive. In Fort Collins, CO, loads that contain 10%+ contamination by volume, results in a penalty fee of $75 per ton for the load. The fee effectively pays for the contaminated load to be hauled to the nearby landfill and disposed as garbage properly.

An emerging practice at the curbside level, is that haulers levy fines or written citations directly to households and property owners for contaminated bins and carts. The severity of the penalties range from a simple tag on the contaminated carts, to fee-based tickets with a “three strikes and you are out-of-the-recycling-program” rule. Because of the potential severity of the penalties, cart tagging is being piloted or informally implemented in many communities, but not generally been written into contracts.


Companies should make certain policies reflect the material handling goals and update when necessary.

When determining policies the following should take place:

  • Decide on contract incentives and requirements that allow for improved efficiency and compliance
  • Develop policies that address incentives - Routing and frequency improve recycling efficiency and bottom line
  • Include policies that make contractors accountable for best practice routing
  • Specify processing facilities where contractors deliver recyclables
  • Determine who owns recyclable materials - Set a schedule for when material is set out and collected
  • Create accountability by tracking when items are improperly disposed - Refuse customer pickup if behaviors do not change over the course of a set timeframe
  • Set responsiveness standards and procedures for access to the facility and inspection protocols - Performance (dis)incentives should be reviewed by the contractor and municipality/owner on a routine schedule

Education and Engagement

Offer educational resources directly to residents, local recycling coordinators, and public information officers. It is important to drive behavior based change and increase personal and community recycling values, which are provided during educational discussions.

Example: Florida and Washington, D.C. developed a website search tool and waste sorting game with a simple and intuitive search function for residents to query where and how a specific item should be safely disposed of or recycled.

Form or participate in a Recycling Market Stakeholder Work Group.

Example: The State of Oregon, Department of Environmental Quality and the Illinois Task Force on Reducing Recycling Contamination Program created group efforts to improve recycling conditions.


The City of Chicago is evaluating the research we provided to determine which initiatives will work best for their community. Along with the approaches outlined within the discussion above, there are thousands of innovative resilient solutions being developed every year to meet the resiliency needs communities face globally. APTIM continually brings best resiliency practices to cities looking for innovative solutions.


Solid Waste Collection and Transfer Contract Between City of Seattle and Waste Management of Washington, Inc., Contract # 178-077-B, April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2029 (n.d.). Seattle. Retrieved from

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Municipal Waste Procurement Tools (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pyzyk, K. (2018, November 29). Bay Area City Offers Year of Free Collection for Clean Recycling. Retrieved from

Re-TRAC (2019). Hauler Reporting. Retrieved from

Rethinking Recycling. How Cities Can Adapt to Evolving Markets (2018). National League of Cities Sustainable Cities Institute. Retrieved from

Best Practices in Municipal Waste Contracting (November 2016). Retrieved from

Smart Waste Collection. Smart Cities (4Q 2016). Navigant Research. Retrieved from$223-million-in-2025

Freytas-Tamura, K. de (2018, January 11). Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling. New York Times. Retrieved from

Watson, S.K. (2018, June 28). China Has Refused to Recycle the West's Plastics. What Now? National Public Radio. Retrieved from

Parker, L. & Elliot, K. (2018, June 20). Plastic Recycling is Broken. National Geographic. Retrieved from



Director, Resiliency Solutions, APTIM

Jordanna Rubin has 20+ years of experience, focused on resiliency and sustainability program design and implementation. She currently serves as Director of the Resiliency Solutions service line at APTIM, where she manages programs that help commercial and government clients survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of environmental, social, and economic stresses. Her expertise also includes Smart City applications, residential programs, green infrastructure, sustainable solid waste management, and resilient power. Prior to joining APTIM, Ms. Rubin was the Environ¬mental Resources Manager for the City of Miami Beach, FL. She managed environmentally sensitive construction projects (including South Beach’s “Beachwalk”; a recreational corridor and shoreline protection structure), worked to incorporate sustainable and green infrastructure BMPs into City projects, and designed environmental education programs.

Project Management Specialist, Resiliency Solutions, APTIM

Mihir Parikh is a Project Management Specialist for the Resiliency Solutions practice at APTIM. His career spans over nine years focusing on sustainability and resiliency consulting, program management, and program development. His experience and expertise consist of a diverse background including resiliency planning; energy management; CDBG-DR program management; public policy; developing and implementing sustainability strategies; energy audits; green infrastructure; utility energy efficiency programs for numerous sectors including municipal, airports, private, and the higher education. Mr. Parikh has provided guidance on resiliency and disaster recovery strategies to different jurisdictions around the country, as well as program assistance to the City of New York’s Hurricane Sandy Recovery Programs, and assisted numerous cities on implementing their climate action goals. Prior to joining APTIM, Mr. Parikh served as the Senior Sustainability Coordinator at A Better City (ABC), a non-profit business association leading a local technical assistance program working with 100+ small to large buildings and businesses in the Greater Boston area. Mihir is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and LEED Green Associate (LEED GA), and holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Policy from Ithaca College.

APTIM has a long history of helping our clients identify and implement best practices for successful waste management programs. The search for better alternatives to the best practices of the past is creating tremendous opportunities for the U.S. waste management industry to develop the new systems, processes, and practices needed to manage waste for decades to come. Their successful development will require extensive knowledge of the industry and innovation. At APTIM, we possess that extensive knowledge and have exceptional insight into current waste management innovations. Our expertise, experience, resources, and innovative mindset, allow us to routinely help our clients overcome today’s challenges and achieve the extraordinary results they need to serve their end users and communities as effectively as possible.