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Source Segregation or Commingled Recycling?

Source Segregation or Commingled Recycling?

Organized at 3 PM GMT on 12th August, 2015




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Ranjith Annepu moderated the panel and conducted the global waste survey to choose topics for the 2015 Global Dialogue on Waste

Madhumitha Rajendran
Madhumitha Rajendran performed background research for the panel

Carine Abouseif
Carine Abouseif helped inform and engage our community on social media


Tejaswini Pagadala has put together a quick summary of the panel and some of her favourite quotes from the panelists.


The more sophisticated the equipment is, the more trained people are, the lesser is the contamination.

  • Trends in MSW: In the US, collection depends on the population density.
  • Larger municipalities prefer larger-bin/single-stream collection. Material recovery facilities are getting larger as well. The trend is to get to larger automated machinery facilities rather than small collections.
  • In rural areas, however, drop-off areas like source segregation rather commingled recycling. It is difficult for rural/small economies to work on single-stream model because it is expensive.
  • Here, in the US, the biggest trend is economics. The collection costs alone are about 2/3rd of the entire cost for recycling. The processing and sales form the other third. So, the challenge lies in trying to get/collect waste.

Recycling is important. There is got to be some effort from everybody to understand that it is important than to be ignorant about it. Because, later you will have to worry about what to do about that waste.

  • Food waste: The food waste hasn’t had much impact here. It’s still not a national wide trend in MSW. However, it is separated from dry waste.
  • Big factors have been cardboard, plastic and glass. There’s less paper now because of a shift of people to reading e-papers. This has, however, led to an increase in plastics (various types of plastic) while glass has become a larger part of the single-stream tonnage.
  • The design of the machinery to recycle waste is such that 50% newspaper, 20% glass and the rest are other materials.
  • Contamination in single-stream: One of the major challenges is the lack of education. Some of the contamination can be attributed to the producers on various products.
  • How to reduce contamination: Having robust equipment will help you deal with it in a better way.


The solution to streamline waste collection and recycling in India would be to make informal recyclers part of the part of formal waste collection system. And, they should also be trained to work efficiently.

  • Trends in MSW: In Canada, in Toronto, single-stream recycling is popular. There is an evident shift to automated technologies in the single-stream collection process.
  • In Canada, the choice of whether cities go for source segregation or commingled recycling depends on their divergent goals. In rural areas, people generally opt for small-bin collections.

Developing countries need more resources. Most of the materials are easy to recycle.

  • Food waste: In Canada, there is separate food waste collection. Canada had the first anaerobic composter. It is similar to that of San Francisco
  • In terms of recyclables, Canada has been struggling to deal with them. The trend is similar to US where paper has decreased but there is an increase of glass and varieties of plastic. In larger institutions, we can have source segregation method.

Recycling business will stay and not collapse because the demand for this will keep increasing due to emerging economies. In future, we will witness a positive trend.

  • Challenges: People want to recycle. But, no one’s ready to afford it. In terms of overall, there are benefits of both. It depends on where you live – urban or rural. That will be the decision-maker.
  • Steps to reduce contamination: Education and awareness is the key. From elementary school, in New Zealand for example, it is drilled down into their kids’ heads.

Scenario in developing countries:

  • In India, most cities have higher population density. Therefore, they opt for single-stream recycling because you get more tonnage. But, the challenge lies in dealing with the massive informal recycling industry.


Single-stream system works better from collections perspective, the time you take to collect, etc, influences it. But, if you have ethnically diverse population, single-bin becomes easy.

  • Trend in MSW: In the UK, MSW is a heavily regulated industry which influences a lot of decision-making processes on how waste should be collected. 77% of government authorities have commingled recycling.
  • If you look at individual areas, like England, it doesn’t have a direct government policy on how materials should be collected. However, most of it related to waste regulations. That stipulates that we must separately collect materials to achieve high-quality product.
  • In Scotland, however, it is different due to their local government policy. Trend has that you have to follow source segregation but in England there’s no such policy driver.
  • The business of economics: In UK, we can’t simply take public opinion when implementing separate collections. From a technical perspective, the main argument revolves around whether you can demonstrate that commingled service can offer better money than source separation.

We’re (the UK) unlikely to meet 50% recycling target by 2020 because the rate of recycling is not keeping up with the pace of waste growth.

  • Overall waste composition:7% increase since 2014 in the UK.
  • We are witnessing interesting trends. Because of austerity, there’s a change in waste composition. People have cut down on paper use and there’s more use of plastic.
  • There are changes in the way the materials are collected. We have a network of waste-recycling centres.
  • “Within UK, there is a drive to improve the quality of recycled product in order to arrest the market from failing. You have to sample the incoming products and outgoing products. And, if you want to set up a recycling facility in UK, you need environment permits. The driver behind this is to get a better-valued recycled product.”
  • Challenges: The benefits of improved quality and improved income outweigh the cost of having to implement the system.



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