Tap The SWEEP Standard To Talk With Your Community Leaders About Waste Generation, Prevention and Recycling

As recycling and reuse programs evolve, you can positively impact your community by learning how to talk “waste management” with city, county, and private company leaders. An informed citizen can change the debate by listening, understanding, and asking questions that shine a light on the issue of waste reduction. The Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Performance (SWEEP) Standard is a tool you can use to have influence.

In recent articles, you’ve met the SWEEP Standard and learned how the standard improves measurements by introducing industry-wide key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide the basis for comparing one waste management to another. Unfortunately, current data on waste generation, characterization, and analysis of where discarded materials ultimately end up is garbage.

Multiple definitions compete to describe the essential elements of waste management. For example, answers to basic questions such as what constitutes recycling? What is recyclable, and what is not? What is contamination? How is diversion defined? What is considered renewable? What is the characterization of different types of plastic? The definitions vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For these reasons, it is tough––if not impossible in many cases–to compare program performance between jurisdictions or nationally. 

Tracking Waste Generation Prevention (WGP) To Learn To Reduce

The Waste Generation Prevention (WGP) Category of the SWEEP points system attempts to incentivize regular data collection, consistent definitions across jurisdictions, and consistent data evaluation. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know enough about what constitutes “good” performance in many of these areas; therefore, setting specific benchmarks would be premature. Because of this, SWEEP initially emphasizes gathering the data and doing the analysis around programs that favor the first two ‘Rs,” Reduce and Reuse, such as setting up Tool Libraries and Food Rescue programs.

KPIs around the WGP performance category address the frequency and comprehensiveness of data collection and analysis of conventional waste management activities, such as waste collection, recovery, and disposal. In addition, beginning to quantify the impacts of source reduction strategies, such as reuse and rescue programs, is another outcome SWEEP asks programs to measure.

The environmental performance KPI for the WGP section of SWEEP addresses the adequacy of litter disposal and collection activities, the requirement that no overflow conditions are reported, and that illegal dumping is addressed through a comprehensive program.

One of the big challenges to a standard around sustainable material management, particularly one that focuses on the certification of municipal and waste company programs, is the lack of a good way to address product manufacturing and lifecycle usage. By asking local governments and waste businesses to support recycled products through their purchases, SWEEP employs a weak, but the only available, tool to partially address this: the procurement function.

SWEEP gives programs credit for environmentally preferable purchasing of day-to-day operational materials and equipment of most things that cost less than $1,000, as well as for larger capital items such as vehicles or machinery.In addition, SWEEP gives credit for assessing and publishing the costs of providing waste management services, including collection, material recovery, and disposal.

Given the wide variance in costs due to geography, labor markets, program comprehensiveness, and other issues. So far, there are a few benchmarks regarding what “good” performance is for sustainable materials management programs. As a first step, SWEEP emphasizes collecting and reporting such data. We will develop specific performance criteria for these areas as we gain more information.

Providing channels for public participation around litter conditions and hazardous waste collection and treatment are the performance indicators used for the WGP Performance Category.

Beyond the Prerequisite Requirements, Waste Generation & Prevention (WGP) points are available for:

  • Efficiency & Effectiveness
  • Prerequisite Measuring and Calculating Waste Generation, Recovery & Disposal
    • MSW Source Reduction Programs 
    • Reuse and Rescue Programs/Projects
    • Measuring and Calculating Source Reduction and Reuse/Rescue Impacts
  • Environmental Performance
    • Litter Prevention and Reduction Infrastructure 
    • Environmentally Preferable Product Procurement (Non-Capital Items)
    • Sustainable Capital and Utility Procurement
  • Economic Performance
    • Economic Assessment of Solid Waste Management Program 
  • Education & Public Participation
    • Education and Engagement Programs on Litter & Source Reduction and Reuse 
    • Household Hazardous Waste Reduction and Engagement Program

After establishing a policy and data analytic framework, SWEEP begins to move into the instrumentalities of the waste management system: Collection, Recovery, and Disposal.

Solid Waste Collection (SWC) Is Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Solid waste collection is the most visible intersection between the waste management industry and the public. Despite the vital importance of removing waste from the areas where people live, no one is excited to be behind a collection vehicle making its morning rounds or on its way to disposing of its cargo.

An important KPI under solid waste collection is having reasonable access to options to manage waste materials, ranging from curbside collection to drop-off facilities. “Reasonable access” is defined as 90% of a jurisdiction’s population being within 30 minutes of travel from a home or business to one or more waste collection/processing options.

The environmental footprint of waste collection is also significant. SWEEP establishes performance targets for energy efficiency through fleet fuel economy targets. These efficiency targets allow for various methods to demonstrate improvement, including route optimization, measured by fuel consumed per ton-mile. Other metrics include using low-emission engines and clean or alternative fuels. Typically, SWEEP’s targets aim to reduce fleet average fuel consumption or fleet emissions between 10% and 25% using a combination of methods.

SWEEP currently focuses on collecting and publishing collection cost data for MSW, recycling, organic waste, and bulky waste, depending on how the collection structure is set up for a municipality’s particular program.

Improved daily operational functions of sustainable materials management are evaluated using KPIs on working conditions and social impacts. For collection, worker safety training and worker participation in developing and overseeing safety programs, including training in workers’ native language, is key, as well as providing a living wage and good benefits to employees.

  Solid Waste Collection (SWC) awards points for:

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness KPI
  • Alternative Collection Options for Recyclable and Compostable Products and Materials 
  • Environmental Performance KPI
  • Energy-Efficient and Low Emissions Collection 
  • Alternative Fueled Solid Waste Collection Vehicles 
  • Household Hazardous Waste Collection infrastructure 
  • Minimizing Emissions from Transfer Stations 
  • Economic Performance KPI
  • Solid Waste Collection Cost-Effectiveness 
  • Working Conditions & Social Impact KPI
  • Commitment to Safe Working Conditions 
  • Collection Safety Protocols and Training 
  • Commitment to Living Wages

Post-Collection Recovery (PCR): Where Your Waste Becomes Value

While PCR is the largest Performance Category point-wise in SWEEP and is likely to gain in importance over time, Sustainable Materials Management covers many important aspects beyond recycling, composting, and reuse. Material recovery is often the conversation’s starting and end point around sustainable materials management, despite the significant impacts and potential to reduce those impacts in the collection and disposal functions, as well as programs to reduce the need for those elements of the system. 

Unsurprisingly, recovery rates are a key performance indicator in SWEEP. However, consistent with the desire to find more comprehensive alternative KPIs for demonstrating program recovery achievement, SWEEP introduces an alternative compliance pathway that looks at per capita disposal rates (in pounds per person per day) instead of simply looking at diversion rates. 

SWEEP prefers per capita disposal as a KPI because it can also incorporate source reduction, reuse, etc. impacts, which a recycling rate/diversion rate metric does not capture. PCR looks at a minimum threshold level of diversion or per capita disposal as a prerequisite to certification, given that SWEEP+ is focused on the top quartile of the market. SWEEP then awards points for beyond minimum performance levels that reward diversion rates 10 to 20% higher than the national average or per capita disposal requirements 5 to 10% lower than average.

SWEEP also recognizes that building local markets for materials is essential to boost overall performance, so this activity is rewarded, as is the development or expansion of organics processing infrastructure.

Like the SWC Performance Category, SWEEP rewards using low-emission or alternative-fueled mobile equipment for processing recycling or organic materials.

SWEEP rewards collecting and publishing material recovery facility (MRF), composting, and food waste processing cost data as applicable.

As with SWC, worker safety training and participation in developing and overseeing safety programs are credited, as well as providing employees a living wage and good benefits. We encourage eliminating runoff, dust, litter, and vermin around MRFs or composting facilities, reducing collection vehicle idling and other PM 2.5 emissions from operations. 

The standard also provides guidelines for locating new facilities away from residential neighborhoods, schools, and other sensitive occupancies, as well as a means of addressing and satisfying citizen nuisance complaints. 

Post-Collection Recovery (PCR) awards points available after Prerequisites are achieved for: 

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness
  • Prerequisite 1 Minimum Diversion Rate
    • Material Recovery & Per Capita Disposal Optimization
    • Minimize Bale/Output Contamination Rate 
    • Producing High-Quality Products from Recovered Organic Materials 
    • Anaerobic Digestion Infrastructure 
    • Compact Commodity/Output Supply Chain 
  • Environmental Performance
    • Energy-Efficient and Low Emissions Operations 
    • Clean and Efficient Material Recovery and Organics Processing Facilities 
    • Alternative Fueled On-Site Mobile Equipment
  • Economic Performance
    • Material Recovery Cost Transparency 
  • Working Conditions and Social Impact
    • Good Neighbor Practices
    • Post-Collection Recovery Facility Safety Protocols and Training 
    • OSHA-Compliant Material Recovery & Organics Processing Facilities 

Post-Collection Disposal: Responsible Outcomes For Unusable Waste

Finally, although SWEEP does not reward waste disposal, given that over 70% of discarded materials end up in landfills or incinerators, the standard does evaluate the environmental performance of such facilities as part of a comprehensive SMM program.

Key landfill operational elements, such as low emissions rolling stock, stormwater management, methane, and other landfill emissions reduction, effective capture and utilization of recovered methane, and not operating landfills like biodigesters, are some of the environmental KPIs rewarded by SWEEP.

Local governments get credit in SWEEP for quantifying and publishing waste disposal costs. If a jurisdiction does not own or operate a landfill, publishing this data would be considered “extra credit.”

One crucial aspect of safety requirements in SWEEP is that we do not reward “accident free” programs. Research shows that incentivizing “accident-free” performance emphasizes not reporting incidents or accidents rather than actual safety. It is better that a facility documents accidents or other issues and then takes steps to resolve them, an approach SWEEP prefers.

As with the other supply-chain Performance Categories, worker safety training and worker participation in developing and overseeing safety programs are credited in PCD, as well as providing a living wage and good benefits to employees. Eliminating runoff, dust, litter, and vermin around MRFs or composting facilities, as well as reducing collection vehicle idling and other PM 2.5 emissions from operational equipment. 

The standard also provides guidelines for locating new facilities away from residential neighborhoods, schools, and other sensitive occupancies, as well as a means of addressing and satisfying citizen nuisance complaints. 

Post Collection Disposal (PCD) 

  • Environmental Performance
    • Alternative Fueled Rolling Stock
    • Landfill Stormwater management 
    • Landfill Emissions Minimization 
    • Effective Utilization of Recovered Methane 
  • Economic Performance
    • Material Disposal Cost Transparency
  • Working Conditions/Social Impact Performance
    • Post-Collection Recovery Facility Safety Protocols and Training 
    • OSHA-Compliant Facilities 
    • Good Neighbor Policy 

Your Next Steps For Action

Being conversant in a specialized language such as waste management standards involves a process of learning, seeing the system in action, talking with leaders, and assessing the information they give you. With time and a few meetings, you can establish yourself as a contributor to your city’s waste management debates.

Participation in your city’s business will raise new questions, which is a sign of progress! Be prepared to dive deeper to learn more about SWEEP at our website.

Learn More

This article, contributed by SWEEP Executive Director Natasha Dyer and SWEEP founder Rob Watson, is part of a series that will summarize the standard and its potential applications in U.S. communities.