Single-stream recycling is easy to love for those of us who have spent our lives methodically separating plastic, glass, paper, and metal. The days of storing two, three, four, or even five different bags under the kitchen sink are over. Simply toss everything into one dumpster and it’s off to your neighborhood garbage collector. What better method to help the environment than this?
Americans adore easy recycling, yet easy recycling is rapidly dividing us. Single-stream recycling is the term used by waste professionals to describe the practice of depositing all recyclables into one bin. It’s well-liked. However, the cost-benefit analysis has changed. The cost of unrecyclable recyclables may have outweighed the benefit of increased involvement and consequently more material put up for recycling. On average, around 25% of the materials we try to recycle are too contaminated to be recycled anyplace other than the landfill. The contamination rate was closer to 7% just a decade ago.
Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these efforts reached 80 percent of American municipalities, up from 29 percent in 2005. The popularity is obvious given that single-stream recycling is straightforward, and 66 percent of people asked by Harris Poll said they would not recycle at all if it weren’t simple.
What Can Be Recycled
While there may be restrictions in some areas, most programs accept the following items:
- Plastic Bottles
- Clean Aluminum Foil
- Paper Bags
- Clean Glass Jars and Containers
- Magazines, Catalogs, and Newspaper
- Shredded Paper
- Empty Prescription Drug Bottles
Materials recycling facilities (MRFs) collect, sort, and process recyclables after they are placed in curbside recycling bins. Following processing, similar types of recyclables are bailed and delivered to recyclers of specialized materials, where they will eventually be used in the manufacturing of new products.
The actual sorting process differs depending on the automation used in the system, which may include conveyors, screens, forced air, magnets, optical material identification, and eddy current separators. The MRF process goes as follows:
- The entire load is emptied and placed on an infeed conveyor to a presort.
- Non-recyclable objects are sorted and removed by hand.
- The materials are transferred to an OCC screen for cardboard separation.
- Items are then sorted by size and cardboard is separated from containers, paper and metal commodities for further processing.
- Glass containers are fractured for removal from the system as a waste product.
- Paper is sorted into various commodity grades.
- The remaining material is passed through a powerful magnet to remove tin and steel cans.
- Plastics are separated by classification (#1 PET and #2 HDPE from the #3-7).
- Aluminum cans are removed from the stream with an eddy current separator.
- After all of the material has been removed, it is baled and sold to end markets for reuse.
Increased recycling rates are one of the most noticeable benefits of single-stream recycling. Because individuals or consumers are not required to sort, they are more likely to participate in curbside recycling programs. Collection containers, once again, take up less space.
In terms of collection, hauling costs are lowered when compared to individual pickups for different recycling streams or the transporter needing to load different items into multiple truck compartments. This easy procedure is more popular with the general public.
One of the most obvious drawbacks of single-stream recycling is that it has resulted in a decline in the quality of materials recovered. Placing all materials in a single bin increases the possibility of contamination from broken glass and the proclivity to throw non-approved materials into the recycling bin. This, in turn, presents severe issues for MRF operators and communities.
Although customers and depositors do not sort the material themselves, someone must eventually sort it, raising the expense of recycling.
How to Avoid Contamination
Tuffman recommends the following steps to help with proper recycling:
- Recycle every empty metal can, plastic bottle, and jug.
- Place clean paper and newspapers in a bag before putting them in the recycling bin.
- Only recycle clean and empty glass bottles and jars.
- Never place plastic bags or wrap in the recycle bin.
- Find out where you can recycle goods like batteries, shredded paper, and prescription drug bottles in your county.
- Do not recycle food waste, dishware, or drinkware in a single-stream recycling bin.
- To avoid confusion, pay attention to labels and utilize standardized versions of recycling bins.