Part III. Put a lid on it: Collection Costs

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In this final installment of the “Put a lid on it” mini-series, we continue to share the initial learnings from a litter, moisture and time-and-motion audit conducted in Durham Region in the fall of 2020. Part I focused on litter, including the causes, composition, and lids as a potential solution. Part II explored moisture and the lids ability to protect blue box contents from its effects. This week, we discuss the crumb-rubber lid’s impact on blue box collection.


Study measures time spent emptying boxes with and without lids

There are several factors, outside of whether the boxes have lids or not, that affect collection timing in Durham Region, including:

  • two different recycling collection contractors;
  • diverse collection trucks (rear load, side load, over-the-top);
  • unique number of operators depending on the truck type (e.g., rear loader requires 2 operators);
  • area of collection (mainly impacts travel time between houses); and
  • number of items set-out for recycling collection.

In order to determine the impact of the lid on collection, AET consulting was hired to complete a time-and-motion study. The time spent emptying blue boxes was tracked for 1,000 households over a two-week period in the fall of 2020. The following are preliminary findings, since only a small percentage of the total sample households were utilizing the lid during the fall period. This initial data will be used as a baseline for further analysis, which will be completed in Spring 2021.

The analysis completed focused on the time-and-motion to collect two blue boxes (no bundles or bags) from rural, suburban, and urban areas. This was based on the fact that the majority (69.18%) of households in the sample areas set out two blue boxes per week.


Lids add about three seconds to stop time

As shown in this graph, the time to collect two open blue boxes ranged from 10.13 to 11.39 seconds per stop, whereas the presence of at least one lid at a household increased stop time to 12.99 to 13.85 seconds per stop. No lidded boxes were collected from rural areas (the lid hadn’t been delivered to those areas yet) and, interestingly, more time was seen spent collecting boxes in urban areas.

Through time and motion studies completed, it was observed that utilizing a lid increased the time to collect two blue boxes by 25.61% (or three seconds per house) when comparing non-lid household stops. Assuming a scenario with 100% lid participation, two blue boxes per stop, and an average 700 stops per day per truck,  this would add a maximum of 35 minutes to each day. With an estimated collection cost of $100 per operating hour this would increase collection costs by $15,166 per year per truck.


As noted throughout this series, these preliminary findings are based on limited but interesting data (944 open versus 48 lidded blue box stops). Generally, as seen in the video above with an AET auditor, the lid is quickly removed and barely interferes with collection time. Furthermore, using a lid will save drivers time picking up materials blown from open or tipped over blue boxes. This time savings may outweigh the extra time to unhook lids, especially on windy days.

Next Steps

The next litter, moisture, and time-and-motion studies will occur in spring 2021. To provide greater understanding of the lid’s effectiveness, research is also underway regarding other local economic impacts of litter. This includes the time and cost associated with handing “litter” calls and municipal labour and operational costs for street cleaning. For more insight into the householder’s impression of the lid and litter, survey’s pre- and post-lid implementation are also underway. More information regarding the overall cost-benefit analysis of the lid will be available in the summer of 2021.

If you have specific questions about this project, reach out to Laurie Westaway.

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