8.5.1 Waste separation
It is difficult to recycle materials once different wastes have been mixed together, so the first stage of the recycling process is to separate the materials into different categories. This is called waste segregation or separation at source and should be done by the householder when the waste items are finished with and discarded. Waste is separated by placing the different categories of waste into different bags or containers.
The degree of separation required will depend on the recycling opportunities that are available, but it is important to separate ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ materials. The simplest method of separation is to keep food waste separate from the remaining materials so that the food waste can be composted or used to make biogas (see Sections 8.5.2 and 8.6). If korales are active in the area, they may ask householders to keep all their recyclable materials (paper, metals, plastics and glass) together, or ask for just one or two materials to be separated.
If waste is not separated at the source, it ends up at a disposal site where all the waste is mixed up so separating the different types becomes much more difficult and hazardous. In many developing countries, including Ethiopia, collecting waste for recycling is often conducted by the informal sector. Such work can be done in a very labour-intensive, unsafe and polluting way, and for very low income. Often young children are employed as collectors. Part of a WASH team’s job is to help put the recycling industry on a more formal basis. This is another aspect of waste management that requires collaboration among stakeholders, including the informal sector and other concerned partners, to help improve the working conditions and provide protective equipment and training to the korales and other waste collectors.
It is possible to set up a more formal scheme to collect recyclable materials where the collectors provide separate receptacles for recyclable and non-recyclable wastes. Although separation has the advantage of promoting recycling, it also has the disadvantages of higher collection costs and needing special equipment and additional workers to collect each type of material. Therefore, in most urban and peri-urban areas, recycling collections are carried out by the informal sector.
Once separated materials have been collected from householders by the korales or by the more formal sector, they are passed on to merchants and eventually to the industrial operations that transform the wastes back into useful raw materials or products. Much of this part of the recycling chain falls outside the work of a local WASH team, but team members can still help people to become more aware of the importance of waste recycling and encourage them to separate materials for collection.