The Truth about Single Stream Recycling

In a culture so committed to the environment, and that has focused on the development of practices specifically intended for the benefit of society for the present and in the future, duel-stream and single-stream recycling may not be as dynamic and evolved as waste institutions want communities to believe.

While recycling needs to be an evolving system in order to embrace new opportunities and address recurring challenges, the recent "growth" in the system will project significant and harmful side effects to the environment. Single-stream Recycling is designed to collect recyclable materials in one bin while duel-stream collects in two separate bins - one for mixed paper and another for commingled containers. The current system of source/curb sort has five to six compartments for sorting recyclables. The single and duel systems are intended to give individuals a simpler recycling process.

On the other hand, and more importantly, single and double-stream recycling have accelerated an already prominent slide towards poorly sorted recovered materials such as glass, plastics and metals being delivered to paper mills, the wrong types of fiber going to paper mills that can only use specific grades and increased contamination of recyclables overall. When recyclables are sent to the wrong manufacturer, more often than not, the materials end up in landfills near the mills. Simply put, poor processing trashes recyclables.

In 2009, the Container Recycling Institute undertook a study on the impacts of single-stream collection of residential recyclables. They found, on average, 40% of glass from single-stream collection winds up in landfills, while 20% is small broken glass used for low-end applications. Only 40% is recycled into containers and fiberglass. Contamination rates went from approximately 4% to around 25% when single stream was introduced; thus, single-stream recycling is not necessarily benefiting the environment.

Interestingly enough, this program is resulting in lower prices for the garbage industry. Single-stream recycling was created by the waste-management industry to reduce high recycling costs, and thus has undermined processors' concern about the quality of materials delivered to manufacturers. Taking these statistics into account, it must be asked, is a simpler process intended to increase efficiency an effective means for recycling if recyclables are subject to landfills in the process?


Resources and Additional Information

Single_Stream_Presentation_Lewis_Clark_Recyclers.pdf
Single_Stream_Waste_And_Recycling_April_2012.pdf

Relevant Links

Container Recycling Institute's Economic Analysis of Single Stream

Single Stream Best Practices Guide

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Analysis - Single Stream

Overview of Single Stream Issues - Container Recycling.org

University of Oregon Analysis - Campus Recycling Program

VIDEO: Single stream waste for sorting in India

Washington Post Article on Single-Stream Recycling





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