Waste separation at source

In 2017, 70 percent of the global waste has been generated in cities - and a rising trend is expected in the next years. One step to efficiently and economically process this waste is the waste separation at source. It is fundamental for reusing and recycling resources because it prevents the contamination of the materials, thus increases their quality. As this system relies on the active participation of citizens, it needs to be simple and easy to understand by the users. The main aspect is that user sort waste according to the materials it is made of, but also that citizens can be identified, thus allowing differentiated pricing when people recycle more or less. In addition, this system can also facilitate composting and the recycling of other stuff like electronics or clothes. These mandatory and additional functions of this system are shown below. The impact of it varies depending on the functions implemented. Regarding the benefits of the solution, this is evident. The benefits, which can be achieved by a system containing all additional functions below, are shown as potential benefits whereas the general benefits can be reached by implementing the mandatory functions only.

 Market Overview

Sorting waste at the source can be done in different ways: Single or multi-stream. In the single stream version, people dispose recyclable materials in one commingled container, while, in a multi-stream system they have to sort them into two or more bins. According to Lakhan (2015), the single stream system has lower costs of collection, however, the value of the material collected is higher and processing costs are lower in multi-stream systems. As the graphic below shows, the revenue is higher implementing a multi-stream system.


(Lakhan, 2015) Based on data from 223 municipalities from Ontario (Canada) on a period of ten years.


 Pricing: Example Pay As You Throw

A common regulation to reduce waste generation and increase recyclables is the called Pay As You Throw system (PAYT). In this scheme, households pay a fee which varies according to the amount of waste they generate. PAYT systems consist of a fixed fee or a tax and a variable element that can depend on "container sizes, the number of sacks, frequency of collection, or the weight collected" (Seyring et al., 2015: 15).

Example of PAYT System in the Veneto Region, Italy:

(Simon, 2014)


Example: Parma (Italy)

The city of Parma implemented a new waste management system in 2014, which included a Zero Waste strategy, door-to-door collection, and the introduction of the bio-waste collection. The table shows how the changes made by the city reduced the costs of waste management, which included a decrease of treatment costs for residual waste (due to less generation) and an increase of the income from recycling (as there were more materials and less contaminated). In addition, more jobs were created with the introduction of this system (Rosa, 2016).

(Rosa, 2016)

Functions help you to understand what the products can do for you and which ones will help you achieve your goals.

Each solution has at least one mandatory function, which is needed to achieve the basic purpose of the solution, and several additional functions, which are features that can be added to provide additional benefits.

Mandatory Functions

sorting waste

Products that ease the sorting process at home

identifying citizen and waste generation

Products that facilitate PAYT schemes by identifying the user and the amount of waste generated.

informing citizen about waste separation

Products that educate citizens on how to reuse materials and sort waste, as for example communication material to inform the citizens as flyers, radio ads, stickers, etc need to be designed. Additionally, application products that inform the citizens on how to recycle, next containers locations, waste collection calendars and reminders can complement the solution.

Additional Functions

composting waste

Products that allow composting at home, for example, via domestic biogas plant or composting

preventing waste

Products that advise on waste prevention such as Apps for avoiding food waste.

providing specific disposal for specific types of waste

Products that allow the special treatment of different types of waste, such as e-waste, demolition waste, hazardous waste.

 Implementation Facts

Average Implementation Time: less than 6 months 


Mandatory Functions

Additional Functions

  • Sorting waste
  • Identifying citizens and waste generation
  • Informing citizens
  • Composting waste
  • Preventing waste
  • Providing disposal for other types of waste

 Government initiatives

Governments are setting recycling targets to increase the amount of waste recovered. In this context, the most progressive initiative is the Zero Waste strategy, whose aim is to recover and reuse all materials avoiding incineration or landfill burying. Cities in Italy (Capannori, Priula, Treviso, Parma), Spain (Argentona, Gipuzkoa), Slovenia (Ljubljana, Vrhnika) and France (Roubaix) have already started to implement Zero Waste policies (Zero Waste Europe, 2017).


Circular Economy - European Union

In 2015, the European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Package, which aim is to reduce resource consumption through better design and to increase reuse and recycling. This package includes legislative proposals on waste with new targets, action on food waste, a finance support platform, and some other regulations (European Commission, 2017).

Separation at source is one of the first steps towards the implementation of smart waste management in municipalities. SMW can help to increase the efficiency of the system, reduce collection and transport costs but also to tackle many problems related to environmental pollution and public health.


Marielisa from Fraunhofer IAO 



  • Reducing waste generation
  • Reycling waste
  • Enabling new business opportunities
  • Reducing GHG emissions

   Potential Benefits

  • Creating new jobs
  • Promoting sustainable behaviour