Know what you “T.H.R.O.W”
Within their Sustainability Plan, the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan defines “green” as the triple bottom line, recognizing the interdependence of the natural environment, economic systems and social structures. The city is committed to sustainability as a means of improving the quality of life for residents through the development of a strong local economy, achievement of social equity, and promotion of the preservation of the natural environment. As part of this commitment, Grand Rapids has placed a focus on transforming its solid waste collections to reduce costs through efficient operations, provide citizens with equitable collection service and fees, and improve environmental performance through increased incinerator and landfill diversion rates.
Challenge and solution
In order to transform its solid waste collection process and associated fees to an innovative, fully integrated, cart-based system which utilizes an incentive- and volume-based pricing model to reduce costs and increase waste diversion, one of the first steps identified by Grand Rapids was a transition from “bag and tag” refuse service with manual collection to a fully automated system.
Cascade Cart Solutions worked in collaboration with AMCS Group (the UK based provider of recycling and waste management software and on-vehicle technology solutions) and the City of Grand Rapids to develop a pay-for-service program, called T.H.R.O.W. (Tip based Household Reduction Of Waste). The program is based on the use of refuse and recycling carts equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) Xtreme tags and collection vehicles outfitted with Cascade’s CapturIT onboard reader systems.
With the T.H.R.O.W program, refuse bags and tags, and recycling bins were replaced with Cascade SmartCarts, and semi-automated collection vehicles were replaced with fully automated vehicles to automate collection. SmartCarts are linked to each residents’ address using their integrated RFID tags, allowing for refuse and recycling data collection and the transfer of operational data to the city’s back office using the onboard CapturIT system.
Volume-based refuse collection fees are also associated with each cart size, and residents were given the choice to select a 35-, 64-, or 96-gallon cart. Recycling is free in the city and residents are charged for refuse on a per-tip basis only when their cart is presented at the curb, thus providing a disincentive for garbage production and increased recycling.
According to Cascade Cart Solutions, the larger recycling containers, single stream collection, and a custom-built recycling rewards program called “mygrcitypoints”, has provided incentive for recycling participation, resulting in increased recyclable material rates and tonnages.
With respect to public education about the program, the city’s residents are encouraged to “Know What You T.H.R.O.W.” to control their fees and help the environment.
“The entire system enables customer self-management,” Said James Hurt, director of Grand Rapids’ Public Services Department. “It allows residents to prepay their refuse bill online, over the phone, or in person, while offering greater cost control through the ability to select cart size, recycle more and present their refuse cart less often.
According to Cascade Cart Solutions, the benefits realized by the implementation of the T.H.R.O.W. system are impressive, including cost savings, increased waste diversion, improved efficiency, simplified billing and multiple payment methods. Approximately $1 million in savings are being realized annually just from the elimination of the need to print and distribute refuse bags and tags. The Cascade SmartCarts and CapturIT system have also resulted in a 67 percent increase in recycling tonnage, a 13 percent decrease in refuse tonnage and approximately $160,000 in disposal savings annually. Additionally, because residents maintain their own account, a savings of approximately $20,000 has been realized with respect to a decrease in customer service requirements to manage billing and collections.
The City of Grand Rapids also notes that the real-time route management and live truck tracking has optimized their collection routes overall, and they now have a much more accurate customer database.
For customers, the whole process has been made much easier, in part due to the fact that payments are now accepted via website, IVR (automated phone) and in person at the city’s cash office. This has reduced customer service and billing requirements. And finally, when the CapturIT system reads RFID tags on carts, it provides trucks with the option to not tip carts linked to a negative account balance.
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