A comparison of municipal Blue Box recycling depot costs

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Accurately measuring the cost and effectiveness of municipal programs is fundamental to making informed decisions about program changes, investments, and transition planning. When it comes to recycling depots, municipalities report their costs through the annual Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) Datacall. However, these costs vary significantly, due in part to the broad range of depot operations across Ontario and the fact that depot costs are often under-reported.

To help better understand the true cost of running a depot, CIF consultants conducted a financial review of Blue Box recycling depot operations in six different Ontario municipalities that use depots as their primary method of collecting Blue Box recyclable materials. The populations of the municipalities ranged between 700 to 5,000 people, and the depot collection systems they use represented the most common types of depot set-ups in Ontario. The collection systems examined included:

  • 8 ydFEL bins
  • 40 ydopen and closed
    top roll off bins
  • 50 ydopen top
    roll off bins
  • Compactor bins

Site design and size of bins

The collection systems using eight-yard bins are typically found on ground level sites and are serviced by Front End Loader (FEL) trucks. These ground level depots also use twenty-yard roll off bins, with or without separate compartments (to allow for separate collection of fibre and containers), as a common alternative. Larger roll off bins (such as 40- or 50-yard bins) are almost exclusively used in ‘sawtooth’ style set ups because the height of the side wall makes it difficult for residents to access from the ground. Compactors are typically found at sites servicing higher volumes of material.

"Sawtooth" depot design

Tonnage a key driver of costs

The CIF’s cost analysis examined labour, operating and maintenance (O&M), and amortized capital costs. Haulage costs were not included in the analysis because they can vary significantly depending on the distance to the processing or transfer site.

The table below provides a summary of average costs for each municipality sampled. As one may expect, there was considerable variability among the costs between depot sites, but the tonnage managed was found to be a key driver of costs. This is because greater tonnages allow a municipality to amortize fixed overhead and capital costs more effectively. Based on the cost analysis, the average annual costs for the collection systems studied ranges from $415 per tonne to $850 per tonne.

LabourO&MCapitalTotal Annual
Per TonnePer HouseholdPer TonnePer HouseholdPer TonnePer HouseholdPer TonnePer Household
#1 (8-yd bins)$263n/a$114n/a$38*n/a$415n/a
#2 (8-yd bins)$254$14$30$2$389$22$674$38
#3 (40-yd bins)$310$30$205$20$302$29$816$78
#4 (40-yd bins)$350$35$34$3$496$50$880$89
#5 (40-yd bins with compactors)$106$10$232$21$124$11$462$43
#6 (50-yd bins)$371$38$59$6$111$11$540$56
* Capital costs for this municipality consist of amortized replacement cost of bins only. Other capital costs were unavailable.

Cost per tonne decreases as tonnage rises

The chart here presents the total annual per tonne cost for each depot site examined. Sites using compactors are indicated by the use of callout boxes. The chart clearly demonstrates the downward per tonne costs as tonnage increases.

Based on the graph, reasonably achievable ceilings for per tonne total costs, regardless of bin types, are:

Up to 100 tonnes per year: Less than $1,000 per tonne.

100 to 200 tonnes per year: Less than $600 per tonne.

More than 200 tonnes: Less than $500 per tonne.

* The markers with callout boxes indicate use of a compactor at that site.

Wide ranges for labour, O&M, and capital costs

The average annual labour cost of the sites examined was $330 per tonne, although this varied significantly among the sites (i.e., $106 per tonne up to $727 per tonne). However, the general ceiling for annual labour costs was found to be about $400 per tonne when managing less than 100 tonnes per year and about $300 per tonne when managing more than 100 tonnes per year. Selection of bin type appeared to be a key factor. For example, use of an FEL bin system for low tonnage may reduce the per tonne labour cost.

The average O&M cost was $122 per tonne, ranging between $17 per tonne up to $430 per tonne. The general ceiling for annual O&M costs was found to be about $250 per tonne, but this tends to decrease as the tonnage of material handled increases, likely due to economies of scale. The type of system used appeared to have an influence on O&M costs. For example, systems using 8-yard bins generally had lower per tonne O&M costs compared to other types. Use of compactors also appears to help reduce cost per tonne at higher tonnages.

The average per tonne capital costs also ranged widely. The average cost for the sites was $267 per tonne, ranging from low of $54 per tonne to a high of $612 per tonne. The general ceiling of amortized capital costs was found to decrease significantly when the tonnage of material handled increased. The ceiling threshold for capital costs was about $600 per tonne for systems that manage less than 50 tonnes per year, $400 per tonne for systems managing between 50 to 100 tonnes per year, and $125 per tonne for systems managing more than 100 tonnes per year.


Right-sizing depot infrastructure

The findings of the study highlight the importance of managing per tonne depot costs by building the appropriate depot infrastructure for on-site constraints and anticipated tonnage, or “right-sizing.” When building a new depot site or rebuilding an existing site, consideration should be given to using:

  • Collection systems that use 8-yard FEL bin systems for sites managing 100 tonnes or less per year.
  • Collection systems that use 40-yard or 50-yard roll-off bins for sites managing 100 tonnes or more per year.
  • For sites that hover around the 100-tonne per year threshold, consideration should be given to hauling costs, since the benefits of compaction available through FEL trucks can significantly reduce overall operating costs compared to roll-offs in certain situations.
  • Above 200 tonnes/yr, operators are encouraged to consider the installation of compaction systems to optimize hauling performance.

View the report

Project #758. Comparison of Recycling Depot Costs

This study highlights the importance of selecting the correct collection system for the volume of waste being managed at a depot. It also serves to remind operators that labour and operating costs for similar operations can vary significantly and should be carefully monitored in advance of transition of the Blue Box Program in Ontario.

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