About UNEP
United Nations Environment Programme
Division of Technology, Industry and Economics
top image
space space space
Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Waste reduction

1.2.3 Is municipally sponsored reduction and recovery appropriate?

Municipally sponsored separate collection of recyclables requires research into financing and markets, coordination of the collection with regular garbage pick-up, extensive public education, and often high levels of subsidization.


Sound techniques for materials recovery in Western Europe include:
  • For glass: Igloos: closed receptacles of approximately one cubic meter in size with entry ports shaped for the material; i.e., round holes for bottles and cans; long slits for newspaper; etc. Such bins provide continuous collection capacity. Costs for an igloo system are usually moderate.
  • For compostables: Weekly or bi-weekly collection in 120-liter rolling carts collected by semi-automated compactors.
  • For paper: For urban or dense village settings, curbside collection in divided bins, with one side used for paper and the other side for other waste. An alternative is collection of paper in bags or boxes. Curbside collection is vulnerable, however, to theft by private operators when paper prices are high. One- or two-cubic-meter containers for residential paper deposit are useful in rural towns.
  • For rigid plastics: Co-collection with paper by commingling is one option that has had some success in Germany. Plastics can be recovered from commingled recyclables, mixed waste, or pre-processed compostables by automated or semi-automated sorting systems (materials recovery facilities).

Guidelines for planning municipally sponsored separate collection

Some of the guidelines accepted in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia are listed below.


Public Container in Europe
European countries often use public containers like this one to encourage materials recovery. This container can be emptied quickly using a specialized collection vehicle.
(credit: Warmer Bulletin)
Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs)
Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) must be well organized to be safe working places.
(credit: Chris Furedy)

Assessing investments in recycling: The potential markets for recyclables need to be assessed before investments are made in processing facilities and collection systems. The following factors should be addressed: (a) existing manufacturers and brokers, (b) potential new markets, (c)transportation costs, (d) material specifications, (e) revenues, and (f) the types of contract with subcontractors.

Urban places can increase their market clout by forming cooperatives. A cooperative can negotiate deals with buyers and direct the recyclables to central pick-up points, making transportation more efficient. Communities can also share market risks by contracting with private sector recycling services.

Setting of quality standards: Buyers have standards for the quality of the recycled materials they use. Standards for quality must be as important as cost considerations, or the recycling program is not likely to succeed. To ensure material quality, residents should be told how to prepare the materials and what materials cannot be recycled.

Controlling collection costs: One of the keys to controlling curbside collection costs is efficiently integrating collection of recyclables with refuse collection. To minimize collection costs, some communities are collecting recyclables in the regular refuse vehicle by using bags of different colors to differentiate recyclables from garbage.

Maximizing participation: To maximize participation in a drop-off program, a large number of sites are needed: people are willing to drive their recyclables only a few miles. If the location of drop-off centers is well publicized, residents and businesses will find it easy to participate.

Other motivational techniques include: school education programs, recycling con-tainers, and telephone hotlines. Literature on how to source-separate should be kept short and simple and distributed widely and often. Residents need to know exactly what is expected of them when recyclables should be placed at the curb, the location of drop-off centers, and the materials that can be received. If regular garbage vehicles are used to collect recyclables, they should be re-labeled, or residents might think that their carefully sepa-rated material is going to the landfill.

Priorities for cities of developing countries

The hierarchy advocated in many industrial countries with high standards of living (with waste reduction placed first see box on the hierarchy in Section 1) may not be appropriate for most cities and towns of less developed countries. Rather, the first priority will be how to divert more organics from the MSW stream (for composting or animal feed). The reason is that organics are the largest category of MSW and the greatest reduction in wastes for disposal can be achieved by diverting organics.


Sandals Made of Recycled Plastic
This man recycles plastic into sandals.
(credit: Raymond Asomani-Boateng)

The second priority will be, in most cases, supporting maximum reduction/ recovery of synthetic materials, without separate collection by the municipal authority. Solid waste department should encourage waste reduction and materials recovery by the private sector (formal and informal). Municipalities should be cautious about adopting Western-style materials recovery programs and technology, although in some cities these may be appropriate.

While waste reduction is not as important in manufacturing as it is for the affluent countries, nevertheless, the developing countries need to be alert to the growth of wasteful practices that may result from modern industrial processes and new modes of consumption. With reference to the latter, for instance, there is concern about the problematic increase of thin plastic film as the wastes clog drainage systems. There is a role here for stakeholders in pressing for legislation and incentives at the national level.

Arguments against municipally sponsored materials recovery in developing countries

Solid waste departments should consider carefully their main duties and their managerial capabilities when suggestions are made for adopting municipally managed source separation and materials recovery. Departments which are already overburdened with the duties of public cleansing and waste disposal are not advised to add the responsibility of collecting and selling source-separated recyclables.

Such collection and marketing demands resources, financial and managerial. In many cases, source separation sponsored by the municipal authority will not necessarily significantly reduce the amounts of wastes that must be disposed of by the authority. This is because the most valuable recyclables are already diverted from the municipal waste stream by waste generators, through private and/or informal systems of waste trading and recycling. In such cases, the solid waste department would not be able to recoup the high costs of separate collection by selling the residual materials that are not sold by the generators. Even where local recovery networks have declined, municipalities that collect materials have not been able to recover costs, as parts of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have discovered.

An additional impediment to municipally sponsored materials recovery arises from the fact that there are so many individuals and small enterprises which make a living by recovering and trading recyclables. If source-separated items were set out for collection, it is highly likely that these would be stolen before the municipality could claim them. This has already occurred in pilot schemes in both developing and industrialized countries.

Finally, given the widespread underemployment in most developing countries, it is often problematic to reduce the jobs provided by private waste recovery and waste trading by transferring these to the public sector. This is especially important where the public sector of waste management is inefficient.

Methods of source separation and materials recovery used in industrialized countries may be a sound practice in cases where the informal system has shrunk (e.g., Kuala Lumpur) or where there are few informal recycling industries (e.g., remote tourist islands).

Thus it is not sound practice for cities with vigorous informal and private sector source separation and materials recovery to adopt municipally sponsored collection of recyclables except perhaps selectively and experimentally in certain areas of the city. In cities where the informal system has shrunk (e.g., Kuala Lumpur) or where there are few informal recycling industries (e.g., tourist islands, African towns), such separate collection may prove to be a sound practice, if there are accessible export markets for the materials.

      Table of Contents


  • Brochure
  • IETC Brochure

  • International Year of Forests
  • International Year of Forests

  • World Environment Day
  • ??????

  • UNEP Campaign
  • UNite to Combat Climate Change