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Managing and Transforming Waste Streams – A Tool for Communities

Contracting Best Practices: Source Separation Requirement or Preference

Contracts can specify the recyclable and compostable materials to be collected as well as how they should be collected. Contracts can also allow for additional materials to be added based on specified conditions such as markets for materials or establish a preference or provide incentives for source separation.

Each community needs to define their program based on the myriad of criteria and real-world conditions. Many large communities today believe that a combination of source separation and mixed material processing are critical to achieving zero waste or other diversion goals.

The primary separation in most U.S. programs is of "wet" garbage from "dry" recyclables. Some programs collect containers separated from paper as a "dual stream" instead of as a "single stream" of all recyclables. The diversion rates of single stream and dual stream programs vary greatly.

Some communities have a requirement that residents and/or businesses must keep their materials source separated. The degree of source separation varies.

In addition, many communities are adding another bin for composting grass clippings, tree trimmings and sometimes food scraps.


  • Best use of materials: Effective source separation supports the highest and best use of materials and cleaner feedstock for producing recycled materials because there is less contamination.
  • Increased diversion from composting: Compostable materials are heavy, high volume materials. Compost provides valuable local agriculture and landscaping soil amendment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Higher recycling revenues: Source separated recyclables historically provide the cleanest materials with the highest revenues when sold.
  • Community education: Source separation raises awareness, leading some generators to think about reducing waste and adjusting buying and use practices.


  • Reduced collection efficiency and costs: Additional source separation may limit collection options and collection truck efficiencies.