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SWEEP-the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol-is a voluntary performance standard for Municipalities and the Solid Waste Industry.




The product and materials management lifecycle, from production to end-of-life processing, represents 10 to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impact of our current material system cannot be continued if we are to solve global problems such as climate change and air, water, and land pollution and resource extraction that affect the ability of the planet to support human life.

While many environmental standards exist, currently there are no sustainability performance standards for municipal solid waste programs or the waste industry. The SWEEP Standard will fill this important niche, to set a defined and consistent benchmark for evaluating performance between and across programs and service providers.  

Figure 1: Various Standards & Regulations Governing Solid Waste

SWEEP is designed to be a market transformation tool that will identify and reward leaders in Sustainable Materials Management. It will also define a pathway toward Zero Waste and provide consistent benchmarks and methodologies to evaluate the solid waste management-including construction & demolition waste and wastewater biosolids-efforts of municipalities & industry.

Voluntary green performance standards have been shown to be very effective at creating clear definitions, pathways and progress toward ambitious goals.  With SWEEP, we intend to have a similar impact on the solid waste industry that LEED had with buildings, which achieved 35% reductions in energy and water use among other benefits.

We anticipate that municipalities and solid waste companies that are SWEEP Certified will have ~25% better performance (e.g. 25% less greenhouse gas emissions; 25% more efficient collection fleets and routing) than non-certified entities.

SWEEP is housed under the non-profit Northeast Resource Recovery Association (NRRA), which was founded 35 years ago as the first organization in the US dedicated to promoting municipal resource recovery and the industry that supports it. 

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?


We are developing SWEEP to be a voluntary environmental performance standard focused on municipal solid waste management programs and the business and industrial activities that deliver them.

Current municipal and industry data is collected and analyzed on an ad hoc basis, when it is collected and analyzed at all. This results in a mishmash of non-comparable performance metrics that are useless for anything but 'declar[ing] victory and go[ing] home.' 

In addition to setting clear and consistent performance standards, SWEEP will also have simple, defined metrics and data collection protocols to allow for comparing program and facility performance. From the outset, we will heed Aristotle's admonition: "It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits," and not seek the 'perfect' answer where none exists. Rather, we will focus on doing better and relentlessly maintain a standard of continuous improvement.

Based on our experience developing the LEED Green Building Rating System, for such a voluntary certification system to be implemented successfully, a technical development process must be set up and implementation infrastructure must be put into place.

We have launched the technical development process by forming a national Steering Committee with representatives from the following sectors:


The Steering Committee meets weekly by phone and just concluded its first 2-day face-to-face meeting.

The role of the SWEEP Steering Committee (SC) is to develop governance and committee selection procedures and to guide the development of the Municipal and Waste Industry standards and ensure their coordination and complementarity. To this end, the SC will assess current market conditions, evaluate the coherence and the technical feasibility of the standards and their ability to be taken up by municipalities and the industry. The SC will also establish market penetration goals and overall environmental benchmarks for SWEEP.

Another important function of the Steering Committee will be to develop budgets, as well as a business plan to ensure the effective support for the development and widespread dissemination of the standard. The committee will also raise money to support these activities.

Steering Committee members will also promote general awareness of the standard within their respective segments of the market, as well as act as ambassadors for the standard in industry forums, etc.

Although the bulk of the detailed technical criteria will be developed by the market and technical committees, Steering Committee will develop the initial framework of the standard and begin populating this framework with specific criteria.

Committee Structure

As shown in the figure below, the SC already has established the basic framework of the standard, which has 4 Performance Categories and 3 to 4 Key Performance Indicator (KPI) criteria within each Performance Category.


In addition to the Steering Committee, we will have 2 Market Standard Committees, one each for Municipalities and the Waste Industry. These market-oriented groups will be supported by two levels of Technical Committees: 4 Performance Category Committees, each with 3-4 Key Performance Indicator Subcommittees.

Performance Category Committees

1. Sustainable Material Management Policy. Under solid waste policies, we give credit for municipalities and companies that have developed and implemented policies that improve the environmental, social and economic performance of their programs.

On the municipal side, this could encompass the adoption and implementation of policies such as banning organics from landfills; putting in place extended producer responsibility requirements; implementing pay as you throw rate structures; requiring refundable deposits on certain types of materials or products; requiring education and awareness building programs and other policy tools that are intended to improve the overall performance of the solid waste management system.

On the industry side, creditable policies might include safety and training requirements; avoiding the use of hand-held electronics while driving; adoption of best practices in landfill management, including social justice criteria when siting landfills, etc.

2. Waste Generation and Prevention. In Waste Generation and Prevention, a key goal is to improve the quality and consistency of data collection and analysis of waste flows within jurisdictions and companies. This would include tracking and analyzing trends in solid waste generation on a gross and per capita level. In addition, conducting waste characterization surveys and, based on these data, creating educational materials, policies, and programs to establish municipal goals for waste prevention and reduced generation.

Public education, especially on the consumption side, will be emphasized in SWEEP. We have had 40 years of education on the 3rd "R", Recycle, but much less on the other 2 "Rs" Reduce and Reuse. Reminding people about the importance of ensuring that materials are properly disposed of will be continued, but relatively more emphasis will be placed on the upstream decisions that consumers, both individual and organizational, are uniquely qualified to make.

Finally, this section will look at procurement policies both for municipalities and companies. These policies and programs would seek to focus procurement efforts on products and materials that contained recovered and reclaimed materials to help close the loop and provide local markets for materials that are recovered and reprocessed locally. Additionally, municipal sustainable procurement will be rewarded for products that have undergone certification for example, Cradle to Cradle.

3. Collection. Under the Collection category, we would reward improved fuel economy and emissions reductions from collection equipment, as well as route and schedule optimization that reduces miles traveled to collect the waste. Smart bin technology that only calls for collection when a certain volume is reached would be credited, as well as alternative and low emission fueled vehicles and automated collection technologies. Safety training programs; records of injury-free days and other working condition related metrics could possibly be included as well.

4. Post-collection processing and disposal. The post collection processing and disposal category may be the largest category in the standard. Here we will look at the improved and actual performance of post-collection processing technology and systems ranging from methane control from composting and vermiculture, to the energy and resource recovery efficiency of material recovery facilities (MRF), to the methane and soil amendment production efficiency and digestate handling of anaerobic digestion equipment, to emissions reductions and efficiency achievements of thermal conversion systems. 

We also will look at where waste processing facilities are located to ensure that certain communities are not overburdened by an excess of such infrastructure. In addition we will evaluate where post-processed materials go in terms of their downstream supply chain. For example, we will likely provide more credit for materials that are separated and/or processed in local or nearby facilities, rather than those that are sent longer distances.

This Performance Category will also look at encouraging improved landfill management procedures, including methane capture and utilization and leachate management. Although the ultimate goal is to avoid material being disposed in landfills, these facilities currently represent a significant portion of the environmental footprint of solid waste management. It is likely that in subsequent versions of the standard, these activities will garner less credit toward certification.

Technical Subcommittees

Each Performance Category has subcommittees dedicated to the following Key Performance Indicator (KPI) categories that will form the basis of the specific criteria that Municipalities and Waste Industry companies must achieve to become SWEEP Certified.

  • Efficiency/Effectiveness
  • Environmental Performance
  • Economic Performance
  • Working Conditions/Social Impact
  • Public Participation/Engagement


When developing specific performance criteria, we will research and determine metrics that represent best practices along a spectrum that would allow initial moderate and high levels of improvement over baseline conditions, plus extra incentives for implementing truly transformation methods and technologies.

We will work with the affected municipal and industry parties to determine what are the most readily available metrics for ascertaining effectiveness of the various categories.

Once the Steering Committee develops a rough draft standard it will be turned over to the Market and Technical committees for further discussion and development. The Steering Committee members will identify and select the first Market and Technical standards committee members. Meanwhile, we will establish a wiki-based online standard development site that will allow international web-based participation in the writing and review of criteria language.

The standard development process will be done through committee meetings (online, by phone, or live) supplemented by an open, online wiki process modeled after the APACHE software development structure. Online contributors who make regular substantive contributions will be invited into the committee structure. Each committee member will have a defined tenure that will balance experience with providing opportunities for new members to join.


Over the next year, we propose the following activities and milestones:

  • Establish Founding Membership in SWEEP Process
  • Develop SWEEP community by fully populating SWEEP Market, Performance Category and KPI Committees
  • Have the wiki-based standard development site and the overall SWEEP website up and running
  • Steering, Market & Technical Committee membership & governance platforms established
  • Develop a branding & marketing program
  • Develop draft SWEEP Standards for Municipalities and Waste Industry that are ready to be piloted
  • Identify and secure agreements with municipalities and companies for pilot testing of the standard
  • Raise $80 to $160K to cover the Basic or Full roll-out budget to fully fund the first year of SWEEP Development (Fees, Grants & other sources)
  • Identify and recruit potential “first adopters” for pilot program with at least 4 communities (2-3 urban & 1-2 suburban/rural) in each of 3 size categories: Small (Pop. <50,000), Medium (Pop. 50,000 to 300,000) and Large (Pop. > 300,000)
  • Announce SWEEP pilot


Our objective is to have the pilot standard developed and available for piloting in the first half of 2017. After this, we would have a 12 to 18 month Pilot Standard phase where municipalities and companies would implement the standard and we would take note of technical and implementation issues prior to the development and release of a public standard at the beginning of 2019.

During the pilot phase we will expand the support materials and tools to be used for certification. These include automatic calculation tools, interpretations of terms and calculation procedures, research and background documentation for the requirements, etc.

We may also develop a professional certification/accreditation program, as well as training for municipalities and solid waste experts in sustainable materials management.

SWEEP will have both prescriptive and performance pathway options. Rather than creating new basic definitions of benchmarks covering elements such as diversion rate, recycling, energy conversion technologies, etc.--to the extent that they are available--they will be adapted from accepted, established sources.

SWEEP may have specific mandatory elements and voluntary elements or it may have mandatory achievement levels in each of the categories as shown in the table below.


Who will take these actions?

An initial Steering Committee consisting of a representative cross-section of the industry will oversee and direct the development of the standard. As SWEEP becomes more established, we will develop an international advisory group and network to help us adapt the standard for international use. In addition, we are likely to include international experts on the technical and market committees even from the beginning. Eventually, we expect to have hundreds of volunteers contributing to developing a world-class standard.

As noted above, currently SWEEP is being sponsored the the Northeast Resource Recovery Association (NRRA), which is a 35-year old non-profit dedicated to sustainable materials management. At some point, it may make sense for SWEEP to spin off and be its own entity, or at least to split the standard development and certification tasks between the two groups.

On the implementation front, Municipal Solid Waste and Environment departments will be undertaking the actions that lead to SWEEP certification. In some cases--smaller jurisdictions, for example--their certification would be based on activities that are limited to setting policies and contracting with SWEEP-Certified partners for services such as collection and post-collection processing and disposal. Other municipalities will have a fully integrated system and the performance of their own collection, processing and disposal infrastructure is what would be certified.

On the Solid Waste Industry side, any portion of the post-disposal industry chain can be evaluated. Companies that only do hauling would receive their SWEEP Certification based on their performance of that service. Similarly, if a company specialized in material recovery facility (MRF) operations, then that would be the basis of their certification. Vertically-integrated companies would be certified based on the totality of their operations, not just on individual pieces.

Where will these actions be taken?

Initially we will implement the standards at the regional and national level in the United States and then expand the effort globally.

Since the Northeast Resource Recovery Association (NRRA) is a regionally-based organization, it makes sense to implement the pilot program in its territory. However, we will want to ensure that we cover a variety of program types, municipality sizes and geographical locations, as well as a range of waste industry service providers, so we will pilot and launch the program nationally, as well as in the NRRA's region.

Based on the experience with LEED, it is likely that one or more international jurisdictions will want to participate in the pilot. We welcome as broad participation as possible, recognizing that, early on, we may be resource-constrained to adequately adapt SWEEP's evaluation criteria to the local conditions. 

What are other key benefits?

At present, there are no consistent definitions of environmental performance for the solid waste industry or for municipal solid waste programs (e.g. landfill diversion rate). Essentially every municipality or industry player can set its own rules as to how define success and performance and there is no auditing or verification mechanism available to ascertain the accuracy of performance claims.

By creating criteria that are documentable and verifiable, it will allow comparison across programs so that real performance can be cataloged, compared and shared. In addition, we expect that programs and companies that are SWEEP Certified will have a minimum of 25 percent better performance across the scope of their activities (e.g. 25% fewer greenhouse gas emissions; 25% better efficiency in their collection fleet, etc.). On a national level in the United States, that would mean a ~1 percent reduction in total GHG initially that could grow to 5 percent or more over time.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Our 10-year goal for market penetration of SWEEP is that 25% of the US population will be covered by the municipalities and/or companies that are SWEEP-Certified. In the 10-50 year mid-term this coverage could grow to 50-70% of the population, plus growth internationally. Beyond 50 years, the need for SWEEP should be obsolete due to its market transformation effect.

The SWEEP Standard’s comprehensive approach to zero waste could contribute up to 5% of total US GHG emissions reductions in the mid-term and 10-15% over the long run.

Our analysis of the penetration model using EPA's Waste Reduction Model (WARM) confirms these estimates: the annual 2050 US GHG emissions reductions from reduced methane and embodied production energy exceeds 540 million tons CO2e by 2050. This is equivalent to approximately 10% of 2010 net CO2e emissions of the United States.

We estimate per capita waste generation will go down by 40%, while we predict recycling and composting will rise by 50-60%, respectively.


What are the proposal’s costs?

We have budgeted for three levels of effort for the first two years of the standard as represented in the following table. These budgets cover personnel and administrative costs, travel, marketing, supplies & equipment and IT costs.

By Year 5, the annual budget for the comprehensive SWEEP program should be in the $3-5 million range and upward of $10 million by Year 10. These costs will be supported by membership and certification fees, as well as the sale of training, professional accreditation and supporting system implementation manuals.

In terms of other types of costs, although SWEEP is a voluntary standard, certain jurisdictions, such as states, may adopt it in a mandatory fashion. This may put ‘unfunded mandate’ pressure on local municipalities that may not have the personnel or resources to implement it fully.

There will also be costs incurred by Municipalities and solid waste industry service providers. We anticipate modest certification fees to cover the cost of processing applications. We will work with Municipal and industry customers to determine reasonable and sustainable certification fees.

There may be a need for outside consulting help initially as people learn the system. SWEEP's wiki standard development platform also could be used for providing curated, expert compliance guidance, not unlike the website. We may need to offer different levels of SWEEP membership to allow access to this tool, with discounts for smaller jurisdictions and companies.

The majority of the associated costs of certification will be investments in upgrading equipment and practices to certifiable levels. These investments, however, will have significant paybacks in terms of improved performance and improved goodwill and brand value for the certified entity.

We will work with federal and state solid waste programs, as well as industry groups, such as the NWRA and private business funds such as the Closed Loop Fund to support performance grants for these investments. 

Time line

As noted above, the effort is currently ongoing. Below are some tentative milestones for the first two years:

Market & Technical Committee outreach               June-August 2016

Participant & member outreach                             June 2016-Ongoing

Initial committee website                                        July 2016

Governance and procedure documents                 August 2016

Initial internal draft standard for Market & Technical committee review                                                                                       August 2016

Broader wiki website operational                           September 2016

Marketing & business plan, including independent organization issues                                                                                      September 2016

Pilot SWEEP Municipalities & Companies identified  January 2017

Pilot SWEEP Standard finalized                             April 2017

SWEEP Standard Pilot program                May 2017 - December 2018

First Committee 'Class' turnover                             June-August 2018

National Launch of SWEEP                                    January 2019

Over the first 5-10 years we would have updated the standard and all of the supporting materials 1-3 times and have brought on a full complement of professional staff to support the volunteers and entities seeking certification. Our market penetration goal would be to have SWEEP be covering 25% of the population of the US.


Medium term, we would want to grow the coverage of the standard to at least 70 percent of the US population and a presence in countries representing over half of the world population.

Long-term, we would hope that the standard becomes obsolete because the material management cycle has been fully transformed.

Related proposals

None at present.


Net CO2e emissions in 2010: