Topic Area: Solid Waste Management
Geographic Area: Berlin Township, New Jersey-U.S.
Focal Question: How effective are waste diversion programs and what elements characterize successful ones?
(1) Platt, B., Doherty, C., Broughton, A., Morris, D., Beyond 40 Percent: Record-Setting Recycling and Composting Programs, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1991; pgs. 71-84, 1-62.
Reviewer: Robert W. Paterson, Colby College '96

Rising disposal costs and increased stringency in federal regulation are forcing municipalities to re-evaluate, and in some cases adopt integrated solid waste management (SWM) plans; the implications of which extend beyond traditional land-use considerations to include air and water pollution and energy consumption. Traditional SWM plans can be grouped into two broadly defined categories: (1) source reduction or waste minimization (2) waste diversion or recycling/composting programs. Depending on the nature of responses to the implementation of these types of SWM strategies, the two are often complementary. However, when materials recovery rates approach 40-50%, waste diversion programs may be sufficiently effective by themselves. Indeed, recycling/composting programs are typically net loss activities in terms of operating costs and revenues, but when avoided disposal costs and other potential pollution and energy savings are accounted for, these programs may in fact be quite profitable. This case study focuses on one such program in New Jersey.

Seven communities in New Jersey operate recycling/composting programs with recovery rates greater than 30%. This innovation is motivated partially by necessity: (1) by 1985 all state landfills had reached full capacity (2) since 1979, landfill tipping fees per ton have increased between 700-1500% (3) the implementation of the Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act in 1987. The most impressive program in the state in terms of participation and recovery rates is that of Berlin Township. The following are some characteristics of the program and background information:

Berlin Township, New Jersey (1989)

Population: 5,629
Number of Households: 1,700
Number of Businesses: 280
Total Waste Generated: 7,778 tons
% Recovered: 57% (32.2% recycling, 24.4% composting)
Participation Rate: 95%
Characteristics: Mandatory source separation, weekly curbside pick-up and 24-hour voluntary drop-off center, containers provided, operated by DPW.
Materials Collected: Aluminum, batteries, brush, corrugated cardboard, Christmas trees, ferrous cans, food waste, glass, high-grade paper, leaves, mixed paper, newspapers, oil, plastics, scrap metal, tires, appliances/furniture, wood waste.
Economic Incentives: Progressive fining system.

The exceptional participation and recovery rates are encouraged by the relative convenience of compliance and economic incentives in the form of fines. Residents and businesses that fail to separate recyclables may be denied collection and subjected to fines ranging from $25 to $100 depending on the number of previous violations. Enforcement is the responsibility of the DPW, which conducts periodic inspections. The town, however, does not utilize an incentive-based pricing system for non-recyclable waste.

All materials collected through the program are transported to identified markets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; modest returns are earned on some materials such as mixed paper while substances such as oil require additional expenditure for treatment and disposal by qualified organizations. Composted material from Berlin's two acre facility is offered to residents free of charge and otherwise is given to farms in state. The processing system as a whole is highly efficient; even used tires are utilized as storage bins at the drop-off center. The following table provides a balance sheet for Berlin's program in 1989, demonstrating the robust savings generated.


Total Operating Costs

4,401.8 tons recycled or composted

Materials Revenue


Avoided Disposal Cost

4,401.8 tons
x $12.76 tipping fees per cubic yard (3.3 x ton)




Publicity and educational programs are an integral part of Berlin's programs as well. The DPW produces a quarterly informational newsletter, an annual recycling calendar, occasional mailings and publication fillers, and recycling education is incorporated into local school curriculum.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which conducted the survey of exemplary programs in which Berlin appears, has identified eight central components which they believe determine the efficacy of a diversion program. Berlin's program encompasses all of them.

· Comprehensive composting program
· Mandatory participation
· Recovery of materials from single/multi-family households and commercial/
institutional establishments
· Targeting a wide range of materials for recovery
· Economic incentives for materials recovery
· Weekly pick-up of materials at curbside
· Provision of adequate containers for setting out materials
· Education and publicity

In conclusion, the Berlin Township exemplifies the characteristics of an integrated and widely successful waste diversion program, demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing disposal volume and costs. This is an important in that under certain demographic conditions where incentive-based source reduction programs may not be appropriate, waste diversion may provide a viable alternative. Under these circumstances significant municipal economic and environmental savings are generated while the costs to firms and households are reduced to the opportunity cost of time spent separating material.

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