Recycling Policy and Performance:
Trends in Participation, Diversion, and Costs
David H. Folz
Associate Professor and MPA Coordinator
Department of Political Science
University of Tennessee
1001 McClung Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996-0410
Office Phone: (423) 974-0802

 This panel study examines trends in recycling participation, diversion, and costs among a national sample of municipal programs in 1989 and 1996 and identifies the recycling policies associated with changes in performance. This study finds that local recycling officials made recycling performance comparisons with other jurisdictions and engaged in a rational process of policy experimentation to fine-tune the performance of their programs during the 1990s. The policies that distinguished higher performing recycling efforts included mandatory recycling, curbside collection and free recycling bins, operating composting programs, and banning disposal of yard wastes. Recycling participation increased about 36% to a mean level of 73% by 1996. Diversion increased by 111% to a mean level of 33% by 1996. The total costs for recycling programs rose an average of 220%, but many cities with curbside collection also improved efficiency to the point where unit recycling costs were competitive with the costs of solid waste collection and disposal.

Recycling Policy and Performance:
Trends in Participation, Diversion, and Costs


During the 1990s, the business of solid waste recycling experienced a considerable transformation in many American cities. Small scale recycling efforts launched by community volunteers evolved into complex and expensive service delivery systems that now compete with other popular programs for scarce local resources. Recycling has become a highly popular way to express support for environmental conservation and its sustained practice by more individuals and businesses has resulted in a national recycling rate that grew from 9% in 1989 to 28% in 1996 (Goldstein, 1997; John, 1994). Despite its popularity, recycling faces increasing scrutiny by local officials who question the fiscal prudence of spending more to achieve higher recycling goals, especially when recycling appears to cost more than traditional solid waste disposal (Skumatz, 1996; Alexander, 1993; Boerner and Chilton, 1994; Tierney, 1996).

With perhaps a few exceptions, the revenues generated by the sale of recycled materials in commodity markets do not usually provide sufficient revenues to defray the cost of a municipal recycling program. Critics, who expect recycling to pay for itself, often cite this as evidence of the economic folly of recycling. The case for expanding local recycling is not helped much by the occasional horror stories of nicely segregated loads of plastics, newspaper, or cullet stored for long periods only to find their way into the local landfill due to wild swings in material prices. On the other hand, some communities report remarkable recycling success with diversion rates that exceed 50% and unit operating costs that compare favorably with traditional solid waste collection and disposal.

The reality of recycling performance for most communities lies somewhere in between these extremes. It has been difficult to assess the efficiency of recycling services because most of what we know about recycling performance is based on anecdotal evidence, case studies, and a variety of cross-sectional analyses (Apotheker, 1993; Folz, 1991; U.S. EPA, 1994; Feiock and West, 1996). Lacking are systematic studies that examine municipal recycling performance and program costs over time. A review of just the academic research on recycling published between 1990 and 1995, for example, identified more than 160 articles in 135 different journals and concluded that such a widely dispersed research stream has limited utility for practitioners and still leaves significant gaps in what is known about the factors that affect the performance and financial viability of recycling (Schuman, et al, 1997). To date, only one other study has attempted to examine and explain change in recycling performance over time, but it is limited to cities in a single state (Kalan and Feiock, 1998).

This article describes the trends in recycling policies and practices between 1989 and 1996 among 158 cities located in 25 different states. The purpose of this panel analysis is to examine how the change or maintenance of recycling policies and operational practices affected recycling participation and diversion and which policies distinguished cities with larger gains in recycling performance. This analysis also examines the trends in program efficiency as measured by the recycling cost per ton for cities in different population categories. Knowledge of "what works" over time in cities similar to their own can provide local waste management officials with information qualitatively different from that offered by case studies and cross-sectional analyses. Local officials can make more informed judgments about how to fine tune their programís performance if they know what other communities have experienced after adopting various recycling policies, strategies, incentives, and practices.

Data and Methods

Municipal recycling coordinators were contacted in two mail survey projects conducted in 1990 and 1997 to obtain information about their recycling operations for calendar years 1989 and 1996, respectively. In the 1990 national mail survey, recycling coordinators in 450 cities in 25 states were contacted and 265 coordinators responded for a return rate of 59 percent. In 1997, local officials in these 265 cities were contacted to ascertain whether they still offered a recycling program. We found that in 14 cities, another unit of government (typically the county) had assumed primary operating responsibility for the recycling program and that four cities had discontinued their recycling program. Of the remaining 247 cities with recycling programs, 158 coordinators responded to the 1997 mail survey for a return rate of 64 percent. The median recycling start-up year for these 158 cities was 1988. In 1989, the recycling coordinators averaged 6.7 years of experience in solid waste management, and in 1996 they averaged 8.9 years of experience.

The length, question order, and wording of the two instruments were preserved as closely as possible to permit valid comparative analysis. The regional distribution of responses to both questionnaires was similar and both were comparable to the regional and population distribution of the 450 cities in the original national population of cities with recycling programs. The sample population is therefore representative of the cities that began their recycling programs in the late 1980s.1

Trends in Recycling Program Policies

Change was the hallmark of many recycling operations between 1989 and 1996. Cities changed their type of program participation (e.g. from voluntary to mandatory), expanded material target lists and types of generators, contracted more extensively with private firms for collection services, and invested more extensively in curbside pick-up service and staffed drop-off sites. To enhance the convenience of recycling, many cities also increased the frequency of collection (from biweekly to weekly), permitted residents to commingle recyclables, and shifted to a schedule of collecting recyclables on the same day as other solid wastes.

In 1989, recycling participation was mandatory in 50 cities (31.6%) and voluntary in 108 cities (68.4%). By 1996, 80 cities (50.6%) mandated participation in response to state directives while 78 (49.4%) cities retained voluntary participation. These aggregate figures, however, mask the full extent of change during this period. Of the 80 cities in 1996 that mandated participation, 44 retained this form throughout the study period while 36 shifted from voluntary to mandatory recycling at some point before 1996. Six cities that formerly mandated participation made participation voluntary. Participation remained voluntary in 72 cities.

In 1989, all cities included single family residents in their recycling programs, 75% included multi-family units, 55% included businesses, and 50% included public institutions. By 1996, 87.2% of cities expanded their programs to include residents of multi-family units, 62% included businesses, and 59.4% collected recyclables from public institutional waste producers.

In 1989 and 1996, newspaper, glass, and aluminum were the three materials most frequently included in recycling programs. Table 1 indicates that many cities expanded their collection efforts to include a much wider variety of materials. By 1996, about three in every four cities collected tin and other metals, plastics, and various types of paper products. About two-thirds of the cities collected yard trimmings in 1996 which typically comprised about 27% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream. The recycling coordinators in 84 of 103 cities (81.5%) also reported that this seasonal waste product was banned from disposal in their sanitary landfills.

Table 1 here

Between 1989 and 1996, the proportion of cities that collected recyclable materials with municipal or town crews remained fairly steady (declining only slightly from 73 to 71 cities). The most significant shift to privatized collection occurred among the cities that relied on the collection efforts of volunteer or non-profit community organizations in 1989. In that year, 28 cities relied on volunteer collection efforts but by 1996, only a dozen cities still collected recyclables in this way. These cities shifted to the use of private contractors with the total proportion rising from 51.9% in 1989 to 61.4% by 1996.

Since 1989, a net of nine additional cities offered the more expensive curbside collection of recyclables bringing the total number of curbside programs to 127 in 1996. As indicated in Table 2, several cities also expanded the number of staffed and unstaffed drop-off sites in their communities. In 1989, only 70 cities (44.3%) offered drop-off facilities. By 1996, 128 cities (82.1%) provided one or more drop-off sites for use by residents and businesses. Almost 60% of cities staffed drop-off recycling sites to assist residential and business generators. The number of cities with buy-back sites, where citizens are paid for returning recyclables, remained constant.

Table 2 here

Several cities also increased the frequency of their curbside collection service. In 1989, 80 cities (68%) provided weekly collection, 21 cities offered biweekly pick-up, and 14 cities collected recyclables on a monthly schedule. Three cities picked-up various materials on different collection schedules. By 1996, 93 cities (73.2%) provided weekly collection, 27 cities (21.3%) picked up bi-weekly, and only two cities collected materials once a month. Five cities had variable collection frequencies for different types of materials.

In an effort to enhance the convenience of recycling, fewer cities in 1996 required generators to separate recyclables, by type, into different bins or containers. In 1989, 97 (82.2%) of 118 cities required citizens to separate materials by type, but in 1996, only 77 (68.1%) of 113 cities required this effort by citizens. Another strategy believed to make recycling more convenient is pick-up of recyclables on the same day that other solid wastes are collected. In 1989, 75 of 116 cities or 64.7% offered same day pick-up, but this number increased to 74.8% or 92 of 123 cities by 1996. More cities also provided "free" recycling bins for use by curbside customers in 1996. In that year, 80 cities (77.7%) provided one or more bins free of charge while only 72 cities did so in 1989.

The use of enforcement tactics and various types of reminders to recycle increased markedly among cities during the study period. In 1989, only about 37% of cities employed some type of sanction or tagged bins or bags with reminders about proper recycling practice. By 1996, 84 cities (55%) used some type of enforcement tactic such as refusing to pick up some or all of a residents trash (33.3%), tagging bins (or bags) with reminders and instructions about proper recycling practice (36%), or issuing written warnings about improper separation of recyclables from other solid wastes (36%).

Informing citizens about what is expected of them in recycling has long been thought to be a critical aspect of sustaining participation (Luton, 1996; Carless, 1992). Explaining how and what to recycle to new residents and communicating the value and benefits of recycling to existing residents are common-sense ways to help sustain public participation. Table 3 compares the frequency that cities reported using various publicity strategies in 1989 and 1996. The types of

Table 3 here

strategies most frequently employed have not changed much between 1989 and 1996, but the most remarkable trend is that fewer cities report using them. Perhaps the education and publicity line items of recycling budgets are among the first items cut in times of fiscal stress. That fewer cities can afford or choose to invest in educational efforts may help to explain why some cities report reaching a plateau in recycling participation and diversion (Doherty and Lawitts, 1998).

Policy diversity characterizes US municipal recycling, but the unmistakable trend in these observed policy changes is a collective effort to enhance the convenience and quality level of recycling services. That more cities now offer curbside collection, free bins, increased collection frequency, and include more types of materials in their programs indicates that communities have made significant investments in recycling as a solid waste management strategy. The key issue is whether any of these policy changes helped to distinguish the cities that managed to attain higher levels of recycling performance during this period and what it cost them to achieve these higher performance levels.

Trends in Recycling Participation and Waste Stream Diversion

To measure citizen participation and waste stream diversion, recycling coordinators were asked to estimate the percentage of eligible households who actually participated in recycling and the percentage of the total MSW stream diverted from disposal by recycling the materials included in their programs. Table 4 summarizes the trends in the mean rates of participation and diversion. On average, there was a 36% increase in participation and a 111% increase in waste stream diversion among these cities between 1989 and 1996. By 1996, participation averaged almost 73% while diversion averaged one-third of the municipal waste stream, just a little higher than the national average of 28%. Clearly, recycling emerged as a significant solid waste management strategy.

Table 4 here

Throughout this period mandatory programs out-performed voluntary recycling efforts. The performance gain over time among mandatory programs was smaller due to the fact that their earlier performance levels already were very high. A striking trend is the extent to which voluntary programs closed the performance gap during this period. In 1989, participation and diversion levels among mandatory programs were about 75% higher, but by 1996, they were less than 25% higher. Voluntary programs that offered the convenience of curbside pick-up continued to have higher mean levels of participation and diversion compared to "drop-off only" programs, but the improvement among both types of voluntary programs was impressive.

To what extent were recycling performance improvements enjoyed by cities of varying size? Table 5 shows that cities in each of the six population groups recorded performance gains, but interesting differences emerged in the relative magnitude and statistical significance of these improvements. Generally, cities in the four groups with populations smaller than 50,000

Table 5 here

experienced the largest gains in participation. Cities in the 25,001 to 50,000 category attained the highest mean level of recycling participation by 1996. Mandatory programs in this group were the only ones that recorded a statistically significant increase in participation. By contrast, voluntary programs in five of the six groups had statistically significant gains in participation. By 1996, the pattern of participation levels attained among voluntary programs in the six population groups generally resembled a normal curve with the apex in the 25,001 to 50,000 group.

Regardless of population size or program type, cities in all groups realized statistically significant gains in diversion performance. Among mandatory programs, much of this improvement was probably attributable to collecting more types of materials. Voluntary recycling efforts also expanded the number and quantities of materials collected and, in addition, also made several types of policy changes that helped to increase participation. In fact, voluntary programs in three population groups (5,000 to 10,000, 25,001 to 50,000, and 50,001 to 100,000) achieved 1996 mean diversion levels higher than those attained by their mandatory counterparts. Cities over 100,000 population averaged the lowest levels of participation and diversion which suggests that larger cities may confront peculiar challenges in collecting and processing recyclables from generators located in high rise apartment and commercial buildings.

Policy Changes and Recycling Performance

The recycling literature suggests two broad categories of factors that may help to account for variations in recycling performance: (1) operational policies over which local officials exercise some control, and (2) various economic, social, and physical features of the community that are not subject to managerial control (Folz and Hazlett 1991, Feiock and West, 1996, Khator, 1993). This analysis examines stability and change in recycling policies and their relationship to participation and diversion performance.

Table 6 compares the mean changes in participation and diversion for cities that either maintained or changed particular recycling policies. Overall, these data show that cities usually experienced some performance improvement in the wake of either policy maintenance or change, however, the magnitude and statistical significance of the improvement varied within each policy. Most interesting is that the cities most likely to make policy changes at some time during the decade were those that had lower 1989 performance levels. The implications are at least twofold: (1) that there is no one ideal "boiler plate" set of recycling policies that will be equally effective in every city and (2) local solid waste managers must compare their city's recycling performance with that attained by other jurisdictions. When existing policies do not produce results that compare favorably with other cities, local officials changed or revised their policies in an effort to improve performance. This finding is intuitively satisfying because it provides evidence that local managers are concerned about "performance accountability" (O'Leary, Durant, Fiorino, and Weiland, 1999, p. 264).

The cities that changed from voluntary to mandatory recycling, for example, realized the largest gains in participation. Cities that added curbside collection also recorded large gains in participation and diversion. On the other hand, participation declined in the few cities that eliminated this service. In 1989, recycling participation varied considerably among cities with different collection frequencies. Some cities with biweekly collection had lower participation levels, but at some point after 1989, these cities changed to weekly collection and achieved participation comparable to cities that maintained weekly collection throughout this period. The handful of cities that changed from weekly to biweekly collection had high participation to begin and did not realize quite the same improvement as those that maintained weekly collection.

Table 6 here

Over time, there was no significant performance difference between programs that maintained either a same day or a different collection policy for recyclables. Here again it is apparent that cities maintained the policy that worked well for them but changed it when performance was less than desired. The dozen cities that changed to same day pick up and the handful that changed from same day collection to a different schedule realized large gains in participation and diversion performance. However, the small number of cities in each case was not large enough to measure a statistically significant performance improvement.

Cities with different material separation policies achieved different levels of participation. Those that permitted citizens to commingle different types of materials in the same bin attained the highest mean participation levels in both years. Apparently, this policy was more convenient for citizens and led to higher participation. Once again, the cities with lower 1989 performance levels were more likely to change their policy. In this case, more cities changed to a commingling policy which resulted in statistically significant diversion improvements. However, the majority of cities maintained a material separation policy that was working well for them and recorded statistically significant gains in performance over the study period.

Finally, the differences in the 1989 participation and diversion levels between cities that collected recyclables with public employees and those that contracted with a private firm for this service largely disappeared by 1996. The 23 cities with lower participation in 1989 changed from public to private collection and recorded the significant participation and diversion gains by 1996. Cities that made the switch from private to public collection also realized significant performance gains, but did not achieve a 1996 diversion level quite as high as cities in the other three groups.

These results indicate that policy changes typically were made by those cities that either were not satisfied with existing performance or could no longer afford a particular recycling policy. Cities continued the policies that worked in their jurisdictions and changed those that were either unpopular, too expensive, or ineffective. This pattern indicates an essentially rational process of policy experimentation by local officials. It suggests that many recycling managers track their program's performance and engage in at least an informal benchmarking effort to determine whether policy change is needed to attain a level of performance comparable to other cities. This underscores the need for reliable, comparative municipal recycling performance information. In fact, when recycling coordinators were asked what value they would place on different types of information for their programs, the item with the highest mean rating was "strategies for sustaining citizen participation in recycling."2

Which recycling policies distinguished the higher performing recycling programs in 1996? Table 7 identifies the factors associated with higher levels of participation and diversion. Participation and diversion was statistically higher in cities that mandated recycling. Participation also was statistically higher in cities that provided curbside collection and offered free bins to citizens in which to place materials. Recycling diversion rates were higher in cities that enjoyed a higher levels of participation, collected a larger number of recyclable materials, and operated a composting program. Finally, cities that banned yard wastes from landfill disposal had higher levels of both participation and diversion. As the previous comparison of mean performance levels suggested, there were no statistically important differences by 1996 between cities that collected recyclables with public or private contract employees, or between cities with different collection frequencies or schedules.

Table 7 here

Recycling Costs and Program Efficiency

In the absence of a universally employed standard for calculating the direct and indirect costs of municipal recycling, researchers either must neglect any cost comparisons or employ reasonable measures, however imperfect. Few jurisdictions employ full cost accounting methods. Moreover, there is considerable variation in how communities report recycling expenditures in their budget documents. In this study, recycling coordinators were asked to estimate the total direct and indirect costs for their recycling program, excluding any revenue from material sales.

The reported total recycling program costs for 1989 and 1996 were converted to 1992 constant dollars using the implicit price deflators for the gross domestic product (GDP) related to state and local government expenditures for these years. The trends in recycling program costs by population size and type of collection system, adjusted for inflation, are indicated in Table 8. Even in constant 1992 dollars, it is apparent that recycling costs increased substantially between 1989 and 1996 for cities in each population class. The mean increase for all cities was about 220%, but larger cities, especially those with populations of 50,000 or more experienced a much larger percentage increase that averaged 339%. Average total program costs for cities with populations of 50,000 or less increased about 78%. Curbside collection efforts obviously were

much more costly than drop-off only collection programs, but both types of programs experienced a comparable mean percentage increase in total program costs.

Table 8 here

Overall, it cost cities considerably more to recycle a larger proportion of their waste streams during the 1990s. The key question is whether they were able to achieve any efficiencies or economies of scale in their more expansive recycling efforts. One indicator of recycling efficiency is the total recycling program costs per ton. Tracking this measure over time for cities can indicate whether or not the sizeable investments cities made in recycling paid dividends in the form of lower unit service costs.

Table 9 reports the mean total tons of materials recycled (excluding any tons composted) and the average total recycling cost per ton for 1989 and 1996 (in constant 1992 dollars) for the cities with curbside programs in six population groups. To fairly compare recycling costs, unit costs among just the curbside collection programs are reported for the population groups. The last row of the table reports the mean figures for the 18 cities with just drop-off collection in 1989 and 1996.

These data show that the average recycling costs per ton for all curbside collection programs declined by almost 4% by 1996. On average, the unit costs for curbside recycling increased markedly only for the cities in the smallest population group. On the other hand, unit costs for curbside collection programs in cities with populations of more than 25,000 decreased, on average, by more than one-third. These findings indicate that most cities have been able to sustain or improve the efficiency of their curbside recycling efforts. Moreover, the substantial efficiency improvements attained by larger cities suggests an economy of scale for these curbside operations that merits future investigation.

Table 9 here

On the other hand, cities with drop-off only recycling programs were not able to achieve efficiency improvements comparable to those attained by many cities with curbside recycling. By 1996, drop-off programs were the most expensive to operate on a cost per ton basis. Their mean cost was $195.10 per ton compared to $110.63 per ton for curbside programs. During the study period, drop-off recycling costs rose about 86% in constant dollars. However, this does not suggest drop-off recycling is an ineffective means of recycling. The total costs for a drop-off program averaged about one-sixth of the cost of the typical curbside program. The drop-off programs in this study also managed to achieve a diversion rate of about 28% in 1996 (the national average rate for all cities that year.) It is apparent that drop-off recycling is probably the least expensive way to divert the first 28% of the waste stream. Nonetheless, our data indicate that much higher diversion rates are likely only with curbside collection. Their cost is significantly higher, but greater unit efficiencies are also possible.

How do the costs of recycling compare with those of traditional solid waste collection and disposal? Unlike solid waste collection operations, recycling generates revenue from material sales. To fairly compare the cost of recycling with traditional modes of solid waste management, it is necessary to deduct these revenues from recycling program costs. Recycling coordinators were asked how much total revenue was obtained from the sale of all recyclable materials collected in their jurisdictions. In constant 1992 dollars, the average revenue per ton obtained by all cities in 1996 from the sale of all recyclable materials was $19.95. Curbside programs generated $20.97 per ton and drop-off programs received an average of $15.34 per ton in 1996. Subtracting the mean revenue per ton received among curbside recycling programs results in an average net recycling cost per ton of $89.66 (in constant 1992 dollars). For drop-off programs, the mean net cost was $179.76 per ton.

How do these net recycling costs compare with solid waste collection and disposal costs? Local managers were asked to report the total tons of solid waste collected and disposed either in landfills or incinerators and the total cost incurred for collection and disposal. In constant 1992 dollars, the mean 1996 total collection and disposal cost was $117.54 per ton for all cities. The mean solid waste collection and disposal costs for cities with curbside programs was $118.36. For cities with only drop-off recycling programs it was $110.26 (in 1992 constant dollars). The average net recycling cost per ton of $89.66 for curbside programs was considerably less than the $118.36 average cost for traditional collection and disposal of solid wastes. The net recycling costs per ton for drop-off recycling programs were higher than the cost per ton for solid waste collection and disposal services ($179.76 per ton versus $110.26 per ton). These figures suggest that a persuasive case can be made that curbside recycling is, on average, an efficient and cost effective strategy for managing municipal solid wastes.


This panel study of cities experienced in recycling shows that local officials engaged in a rational process of policy experimentation to improve recycling participation and diversion performance during the 1990s. The recycling success many cities enjoyed was accompanied by sizeable increases in recycling expenditures, but in the process, many cities with curbside recycling also improved the efficiency of their recycling efforts. The enduring popularity of recycling and its cost competitiveness with traditional collection and disposal suggest that there are important political and economic reasons to continue to invest in this waste management strategy. For cities that cannot afford to invest in a curbside collection system, drop-off recycling proved to be a comparably inexpensive way to divert about one-fourth of the municipal solid waste stream from disposal.

Several policies and practices within the control of local managers were associated with the higher performing programs during the 1990s. While there is no single "boiler plate" set of recycling policies that guarantees higher performance, higher rates of participation and diversion were observed among cities that mandated recycling, offered curbside collection and free recycling bins, and banned disposal of yard wastes in the local landfill. Diversion was higher in cities that had higher levels of citizen participation, recycled more types of materials, operated a composting program, and banned landfill disposal of yard wastes. By 1996, there were no significant performance differences among cities with different collection schedules, pick up frequencies, or collection agents.

Recycling managers who are expected to meet recycling goals and targets much above a mean one-third diversion level have already or should expect in the future to invest in a curbside collection system. The relatively inexpensive "low-hanging" fruit of recycling has been harvested and the total cost to improve diversion performance for cities with only drop-off recycling will increase in the future. This study has shown that greater efficiencies are possible with curbside recycling and it can cost less per ton to operate a curbside collection program compared to traditional solid waste collection and disposal.

Finally, it is apparent that local recycling managers value information on the strategies that other cities use to achieve high performance and are keenly interested in ways to improve program efficiency. Widespread use of full cost accounting for recycling and the collection and publication of municipal performance data, perhaps by state agencies, will enable more cities to engage in benchmarking for continued improvement of their recycling services.

Table 1. Materials Included in Recycling Programs in 1989 and 1996 (N= 158)

                                   1989                 1996
Material                 N     Percent     N   Percent  Change
Mixed paper             47     29.7         117     74.5    +149.9
Tin & other metals    73     46.2         144     91.7     + 97.3
High grade/white      64     40.5         123     78.3     + 92.2
    office paper
Corrugated Paper    91     57.6         141     89.8      + 55.0
Used oil                   69     43.7           96     61.1      + 39.1
Yard Trimmings       79     50.0         103     65.6      + 30.4
Plastics                  101     63.9         130     82.8      + 28.7
Aluminum              142     96.8         152     99.4        + 7.0
Glass                     148     93.7         154     98.1        + 4.1
Newspaper           153     96.8         156     99.4        + 1.9


Table 2. Collection Points for Recyclable Materials in 1989 and 1996

                                                    1989                 1996
Collection Locations              N    Percent     N     Percent
Curbside                                 118     74.7         127     81.4
Drop-off sites                           70     44.3         128     82.1
    Unstaffed                             --       --             52   (40.6%)
    Staffed                                 --       --             76  (59.4%)
Buy-back sites                         12     7 .6           12        7.6


Table 3. Use of Recycling Publicity Strategies in 1989 and 1996

  Strategy                                                                   1989     1996
                                                                      N     Percent     N     Percent
Direct mail                                                     123     79.9         102     65.8
Distribution of pamphlets, brochures, or
    bumper stickers                                         123     79.9          106     68.4
Special educational programs about
    recycling in public schools                          102     66.2            90     58.1
 Speeches by city officials to schools or
    local groups about recycling                       100     64.9            74     47.7
Free newspaper public service notices             87     56.9            66     42.6
Paid newspaper ads                                        65     42.5            60     38.7
Free television public service announcements   52     33.8            54     34.8
Neighborhood or community information
    meetings                                                     68     44.2            53     34.2
Free radio public service announcements         49     31.8            35     22.6
Window displays or posted notices in
    neighborhoods                                           44     28.6             29    18.7
Paid radio commercials                                  16     10.5             16    10.3
Appointment of "block leaders" to encourage
    neighborsto recycle                                    20     13.0             11      7.1
Contract with advertising specialist to
    promote recycling                                        9       5.8             10      6.5
Billboard ads                                                 16     10.4               9      5.8
Paid television commercials                             4       2.6                7      4.5

Table 4. Recycling Participation and Diversion Rates by Program Type in 1989 and 1996
Indicator                                                1989     N         1996     N     Difference     Change
Mean Participation Rates (All cities)         53.53     149      72.80     139     +19.27         +35.99
    Mandatory Programs                           76.51       47      80.01       71      + 3.50          + 4.57
    Voluntary Programs                             43.02     101      65.27       68     +22.25         +51.72
        Curbside Pick-up                              49.83      71      68.78       55     +18.95         +38.03
        Drop-off only                                   26.90      30      50.39       13      +23.49         +87.32

Mean Diversion Rates (All cities)             15.63     139     33.07       138    +17.44        +111.58
    Mandatory Programs                           22.60       42     36.38        68     +13.78         + 60.97
    Voluntary Programs                            12.60        96     29.85        70     +17.25        +136.90
        Curbside Pick-up                            12.70       69      30.40        53     +17.70       +139.37
        Drop-off only                                 12.37        27      28.15        17     +15.78       +127.57


Table 5. Participation and Diversion Rates by Population Class and Program Type in 1989
                and 1996

Population Class                          Participation                         Diversion
                                                      1989     1996                    1989         1996

Under 5,000 (N = 43)                    51.55     75.68*              16.71        32.68*
    Mandatory                                 80.62     81.45                 23.17        37.28*
    Voluntary                                   33.65     67.86*               13.35        27.00*

5000 - 10,000 (N = 30)                 53.55     74.28*              17.29        37.64*
    Mandatory                                 75.18     80.90                 21.89       36.78*
    Voluntary                                   40.33     55.36                 15.00       40.38*

10,001 - 25,000 (N = 32)             59.03     73.72*               19.11        33.51*
    Mandatory                                 78.33     81.60                26.92         40.56*
    Voluntary                                   45.41     65.31*              12.87         27.40

25,001 - 50,000 (N = 17)              59.33     80.60*              12.43         32.62*
    Mandatory                                 61.50     80.83*               11.67        30.94*
    Voluntary                                   61.00     80.46*               12.58        33.79*

50,001 - 100,000 (N = 16)           58.20     72.37                 13.12         33.93*     Mandatory                                     74.00     77.16                 23.50         31.00*
    Voluntary                                   52.45     65.17                   9.67         38.61*

Over 100,000 (N = 19)                 41.21     56.21                 10.83         26.27*
    Mandatory                                 60.00     30.00                 11.00         NA
    Voluntary                                   39.00     57.84*               10.81         26.27*

* Statistically significant difference between the 1989 and 1996 figures at the .05 level.


Table 6. Recycling Policies and Changes in Participation and Diversion (1989-1996)

                                                  Participation                              Diversion
Recycling Policies             N     1989     1996     Change     1989     1996     Change

Type of Participation
    Remained mandatory       44     78.71     81.10         2.39        22.03     40.57      18.54*
    Changed to mandatory     36     37.59     78.21       40.62*       14.03     31.31     17.28*
    Remained voluntary         72     45.53     64.94       19.41*       11.98     29.19     17.21*
    Changed to voluntary         6     58.00     68.66       10.66         26.00     36.91     10.91

Curbside Collection
    Maintained curbside       105     60.35     77.55       17.20*       16.04     34.36     18.32*
    Added curbside               13     19.69     67.23       47.54*         9.07     29.57     20.50*
    Eliminated curbside           6      52.14    39.00       -13.14         15.42     31.56     16.14

Frequency of Collection
    Retained weekly collect.   64    60.43     77.24       16.81*       15.27     33.95     18.68*
    Changed from biweekly
        to weekly collect.         18    48.39     76.00       27.61*       16.28     30.43     14.15*
    Changed from weekly to
        biweekly                       8     60.60     72.22      11.62         19.37     31.71     12.34

Same-day Collection
  Maintained same day cycle 65     60.84     77.79     16.95*         15.31     34.94    19.63*
  Changed to same day cycle12     39.09     68.90      29.81          12.82     34.20    21.38*
  Maintained different cycle  23     72.31     76.93       4.62           21.15     35.44    14.29
  Changed from same day to
      to different cycle             5     50.00     75.50     25.50           10.80      18.28      7.48

Material Separation
    Maintained separation
        policy                         54     57.05     73.86     16.81*          15.62     34.03     18.41*
    Changed to commingled
        policy                         12     48.84     66.15     17.31            12.00     28.49     16.49*
    Maintained commingling
        policy                         10     60.30     85.00     24.70*          19.60     36.91     17.31*
    Changed to separation
        policy                           5     58.60     64.34       5.74           12.20     29.00     16.80*

Collection Agent
    Remained public             56     50.40     69.22     18.82*          15.33     32.71     17.38*
    From public to private     23     41.62     74.13     32.51*          18.95     34.40     15.45*
    From private to public     15     56.68     72.33     15.65*          15.92     28.85     12.93*
    Remained private            36     65.58     74.66       9.14            14.05     33.15     19.10*

* Statistically significant difference between the 1989 and 1996 figures at the .05 level.


Table 7. Recycling Policies and Program Performance in 1996

   Policy/Practice                                  Participation                  Diversion
                                                              r         Sig.     N                 r     Sig.     N
Type Participation
(0= Mandatory; 1= Voluntary)             -.30*     .00     139           -.22*  .00    138

Participation level                                   --        --      --                 .26*   .00   127

Number of materials recycled               .00      .97      139             .42*   .00    138

Operates composting program              .04      .58      137             .33*   .00    136

Curbside collection
(0 = no; 1 = yes)                                 .33*     .00     138             .09     .27     138

Collection by city workers                   .06        .42     138           -.05    . 50     138
Collection by private contractor          .11         .17     138            .09     .27     138

 Frequency of collection
(0 = weekly; 1 = biweekly)               -.06         .49      112           .09     .35     106

Same day collection
(0= no; 1 = yes)                               -.01         .94      114           .01     .90     108

Free recycling bins provided
(0= no; 1 = yes)                              .20*         .01      137          -.03     .69     136

Ban on disposal of yard wastes
in local landfill (0= no; 1 = yes)        .28*         .00      133           .35*    .00    131
* Statistically significant at the .05 level

Table 8. Mean Recycling Program Costs in Constant 1992 Dollars* by Population Size
               and Type of Collection System in 1989 and 1996

Population Size                     1989             N                 1996                 N         Percent Change
Under 5,000                     $26,768.38         23            $54,447.45         27         103.40
    Drop-off                          9,274.15          9                22,460.73           9
    Curbside                        38,014.69         14               70,440.80          18

5000 - 10,000                     53,073.02        23            117,564.03         22         121.15
    Drop-off                          45,096.69          6            126,493.40          7
    Curbside                          55,888.20        17            113,397.00         15

10,001 - 25,000                  92,159.42        25             189,687.18         20         105.82
    Drop-off                          40,430.20          6                 9,165.90           1
    Curbside                        108,494.98        19             199,188.29         19

25,001 - 50,000                165,645.98        15             286,565.56          11          72.99
    Drop-off                          20,289.14          3             183,318.05            1
    Curbside                        202,001.84        12             296,890.31          10

50,001 - 100,000              247,589.20        13             871,757.18          11         232.80
    Drop-off                         33,149.17           2                                           0
    Curbside                       286,578.29         11             871,757.18          11

Over 100,000                   367,149.46         15           1,760,524.84          14         379.51
    Drop-off                                                    0              302,474.79            1
    Curbside                       367,149.46         15           1,872,628.58          13

 All Cities                         134,659.02        114             430,848.87         105        219.95
    All Drop-off                    27,838.25         26               83,292.58           19        199.20
    All Curbside                  166,219.71         88             507,634.56           86        205.40

 * Data for 1989 and 1996 were converted to 1992 constant dollars by using the implicit price deflators for state and local government purchases of goods and services as published in the Survey of Current Business, Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Department of Commerce.

Table 9. Curbside Collection Recycling Performance by City Size and Drop-off Recycling Performance in 1989 and 1996 (Constant 1992 Dollars)

                                                1989                                                 1996
Population Class
per Ton
per Ton
Under 5,000
5000 - 10,000
+ 15.59
10,001 - 25,000 
+ 0.11
25,001 - 50,000 
- 36.74
50,001 - 100,000 
- 34.26
Over 100,000 
- 38.20
Means for all 
Curbside Programs
- 3.76
Means for just Drop-off Cities 
 + 86.52



1. The regional distribution of cities that responded to the 1989 and 1996 surveys were:
Region Percent in 1989 (N=264) Percent in 1996 (N=158)

2. Recycling managers were asked to rate the value of several different types of information for their programs on a three point scale where low value = 1; moderate value =2; and high value = 3. The mean scores of the top three types of information were:

"Strategies for sustaining citizen participation" 2.64
"The environmental benefits of recycling" 2.40
"Contract provisions for recycling services" 2.21

List of References

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Alexander, J. (1993). In defense of garbage. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

Apotheker, S. (1993). "Curbside recycling collection in the 40 largest U.S. cities." Resource
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David H. Folz is Associate Professor and MPA Coordinator in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where he teaches courses in public management, survey research, and state politics. His research focuses on solid waste management and environmental policy and his work has appeared in numerous public administration and environmental policy journals. He has also published Survey Research for Public Administration with Sage Publications.