The Economics of Resource Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste

Science  15 Mar 1974:
Vol. 183, Issue 4129, pp. 1052-1058
DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4129.1052


A prototypical operating statement similar to that used by business firms has been shown to be a useful decision-making tool for a community choosing a solid waste management system. When applied to resource recovery, it highlights the economics of recovery and the values of the input parameters necessary to achieve economic viability, whether in the case of public or private ownership (23).

In most communities, refuse processing to recover material resources must be based on more than one source of revenue. In addition to the revenues from the sale of by-products, there must be revenues from processing the incoming refuse and from a user, or dump, fee. In the first case discussed, that of materials recovery by a front end system, resource recovery is shown to be economically feasible for those communities in which the present cost of disposal is relatively high. The indifferent community was one having a current cost of $7.72 per ton; more accurately, this would be the cost for the near-term future. It is not necessary that current costs be used, since many communities are merely "dumping" their refuse. The indifference decision should be based on the cost of an environmentally sound alternative.

Energy recovery from municipal solid waste can increase the number of communities in which resource recovery will be an economic adjunct to a solid waste management system. The analysis presented here was based on the assumption that the value of the fuel recovered exactly offset the additional capital and operating costs of the utility which burns it. There could be costs above and beyond this; similarly, there could be a saving by taking into account the economic value of the organic fraction as fuel. However, it is believed that the assumption under which the materials-plus-energy case was analyzed seems to be realistic at this time.