Single Stream is the collection method in which unlike recyclables, paper, plastics, metal, glass, etc. are tossed together in a single compartment truck.
Single stream recycling was initiated by the garbage hauling industry. It helped them regain market share lost to the original residential recycling programs, first run by volunteers, then municipalities. Haulers get paid for hauling, whether the collected items go to the recycling center, landfill, get shipped overseas, or burned up in a waste to energy facility, (WTE, i.e., incinerator).
Many cities signed on to single stream when told it would increase recycling participation rates. They were told the glass would not break. They were led to believe that the volumes/tonnage going to the landfill would be diverted for the purpose of recycling, which means made into new product and returned to the market place.
Did low ball bidding occur in your community, causing stress for the recycling non profit and/or small recycling operations, maybe even putting them out of business? About those participation rates, participation rates are simply the number of recycle bins set on the curb. It does not mean the items in the bins are recyclable. A bin containing a dead dog is still counted as “participation”. Guess what, glass does break, and it causes damage to the equipment in paper mills, and other factories. More on glass later.
While collections costs were originally lower with a single stream collection, sorting costs and the costs associated with disposing of contaminated recyclables rose. With single stream collection, liquids spill, squashed metal, plastic, and broken glass end up in the wrong bales. Non-recyclables, garbage, and dangerous items appear on sort lines. This causes down time in facilities and down time costs money. Who do you think is picking up the tab for this unnecessary mess?
About those diversion rates. Well, when you are dealing with a huge, private, corporation transparency evaporates. So, amounts diverted from the landfill? Who knows what, ends up where?
Communities once received money for their recyclables, but with single stream, the tables turned. Does your community receive money for the recyclables collected? Sadly, double digit contamination does not bring good revenue for your collected recyclables. It also creates safety hazards for recycling workers.
Instead of keeping recycling simple, low tech, inexpensive, clean, sorted, and marketable, single stream has made things far more complicated, dirty, dangerous, and expensive. By using a single compartment truck, we are creating garbage out of our valuable recyclables. It is is fiscally, environmentally, and socially irresponsible.
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