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Curbside recycling software: Can it make your life easier?

A sampling of planning and routing software offers something for everyone.

Continued advances in computer technologies, including the infamous Internet and its web sites, have provided many new toys and even a few helpful tools. One of the more valuable tools is the increasing number and variety of software to assist with recycling and waste collections. Although yesterday's haulers and planners may have gotten by without customer databases and cost models, many of these tools have now become a critical -- even indispensable -- means for maintaining productivity and competitiveness.

The variety of software currently available for assisting the recycling and waste industry is impressive, and includes everything from satellite tracking of containers to projecting the cost of a solid waste management system for an entire municipality. This variety means that there is something to fulfill everyone's needs, but it also presents a bewildering array of choices for the novice user. This review attempts to clear the air by describing some of the software that is currently available.

For this review, eight software programs were evaluated for their capabilities. These were chosen in part based on the availability of a demonstration program for reviewing how well they operate. The eight programs that were reviewed fall into two general groups:

routing and route management software
general planning and recycling cost analysis software ...

Planning Software

This group of software includes several programs that will primarily interest planners and consultants. Because of differing designs and capabilities, this group was further subdivided into:

those performing general solid waste management planning (WastePlan and SWPlan).
those focusing on recycling results and costs (RecycleWare and EPIC's cost model).

Four planning software programs were reviewed:

SWPlan, by Recycling Insights, is a Windows program that allows the user to examine various options for handling the flow of waste from a large area or a single company. This program uses standard Windows design and icons, providing an easy interface for users familiar with Microsoft Windows. Recycling Insights also offers a second software program, RecycleTrak, for tracking and reporting recycling tonnages. For further information, check out Recycling Insight's Web site

WastePlan, by Tellus Institute, provides a tool for analyzing and forecasting costs and capacity requirements for solid waste management, including waste generation, collection systems, and processing and disposal systems. This program allows two different modes of operation with different levels of complexity and slightly different capabilities. The data shown in Table 2 are for the "advanced" mode.

Municipal Recycling Collection Cost Model, produced by the Environment and Plastics Institute of Canada, is a well-designed spreadsheet based in Microsoft Excel software. This spreadsheet walks one through a cost analysis for recycling programs for single family homes and apartment buildings. EPIC's cost model can be run from a disk, but the user will need to have Excel installed on his or her computer to operate it. Default values and results are reported in metric measurements.

RecycleWare, by RecycleWorlds Consulting, allows a detailed cost analysis of five recycling options (six if you count the no recycling option), including drop-off containers alone, curbside bins with a compartmentalized truck for recycling collection, curbside bins with separate commingled collections for recyclables, curbside collection using one truck (divided or with a trailer) for waste and recyclables, and post-collection separation of recyclables. RecycleWare allows tighter control of collection cost factors than the two general planning software programs. A Windows version of this software is expected to be released soon. A comparison of these software programs is shown in Table 2.

Table 2 Comparison of Planning Program Capabilities and Requirements
General Planning Software Recycling Program Software

SWPlan WastePlan EPIC's RecycleWare
Program Requirements:
Price $475 $2,000 Free $5,000
Minimum CPU 386 286 386 286
Hard disk space 2 MB 6 MB 0.12 MB 3 MB
Operating system Windows DOS Windows

(MS Excel)

Technical support:
612-445-6992 No No 449-1010
Hours 9-11am CT 8-5 ET 8-5 CT 8-5 CT
Cost Free 8 hours free n/a 1 year free
Other support Internet: No No Soon
Basic Parameters:
Ease of use: Overall High Medium High Medium
Training Online Tutorial Yes No Yes
Clarity of manual Medium High High Medium
Online support Yes Yes No Partial
Learning curve Low High Medium High
Overall Medium High Low High
Material selection Yes (19 or less) Yes Yes No
Reports High Medium Low Low
Program Capabilities:
Cost Projections Yes Yes Yes Yes
Multi-year analysis Yes(1) Yes No Yes
Scenario development Yes(1) Yes Limited Yes

EPIC = Environment and Plastics Institute of Canada.
CPU = Central processing unit. MB = Megabytes. CT = Central time zone. ET = Eastern time zone.
(1) Accomplished through separate runs of the program, although software design allows separate
windows from each run of the program to be open simultaneously for easy side-by-side comparison.
Source: Green Solutions, 1996.

Conclusions and Recommendations

It may be stating the obvious, but the best choice of software for a particular company will depend on a company's precise needs. ...
For the planning software, either EPIC's collection cost model or RecycleWare would be a good choice for those who are examining the cost of recycling programs in great detail. For more general planning and system analysis efforts, SWPlan is highly recommended for its Windows format and subsequent ease of use for most users. WastePlan offers a few advantages, however, that some users may consider to be valuable enough to warrant the greater investment in time to learn this program.

What none of these four planning software programs can do is completely replace the careful consideration of policies and community needs that is the special province of the public policy sector, but all of the four programs reviewed are useful for addressing "what if" scenarios and providing ballpark cost estimates.

By no means does this list of programs include all of the additional software programs that are available. Moreover, new software packages and capabilities are continually being developed or added to existing programs. Smart computer user will keep an eye on these Curbside recycling software: Can it make your life easier?

About the Author

Rick Hlavka is the owner of the Seattle-based consulting firm, Green Solutions, which specializes in recycling program evaluation, waste composition studies, solid waste management plans, and cost analysis. He can be reached at by e-mail at

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