Single Stream/Mixed Recycling

A Little History

Every community has a slightly different story, so I will tell a generic one. You must ask questions and probe to learn the actual history of recycling in your community. Many, if not most, residential recycling programs began with volunteer efforts. Citizen volunteers opened drop-off centers to collect paper and cans. Because the citizens were dealing directly with the recipients of their collections, contamination rates were low.
As recycling grew in popularity, drop-off centers led to curbside collection. The original curbside collection method was called curb-sort or multi-stream. With curb-sort or multi-stream the different items, (glass, plastic, paper, metals), were sorted at the curb, into separate compartments on the truck.
This separation, as with drop-off centers, resulted in very little contamination, thus provided the recipients, called end-users or re-manufacturers, with high quality feedstock. End-users/re-manufacturers are the companies that make new products from your recyclables. If new products are not being made from your recyclables, then you are not recycling.

What IS Single Stream recycling?

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.

Single Stream Results

    • In 2016 the glass industry spoke up, admitting the glass coming from single stream collection systems was too contaminated to be of use. A new coalition was formed to try to deal with the problems caused by single stream collection.


Mischief makers in Texas weren’t the only ones getting caught…

    • Recycling glass vs. using virgin resources reduces mining waste by 80% and reduces water use by 50%. Single stream is what needs to be eliminated, NOT Glass. Hooray for those communities who created cleaner collection methods for glass.
    • May 1, 2018, Because communities allowed garbage haulers control of the once valuable recyclables, end-users found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. If they speak up, as the glass industry did, do end-users risk having their item pulled from curbside recycling collection programs? Some end-users have acquired recycling facilities, just so they could regain control of their particular feedstock.


    • PLASTIC is the current hot issue. For now we’ll recommend that you investigate who is promoting more plastic recycling, rather than encouraging a decrease in un necessary plastics. The PBS Frontline special, Plastic Wars is an eye opener,


  • The following report relays information about who pays the price, for unnecessary convenience. Will cancer rates rise in the South as a result of more plastic factories, also called chemical plants? Better get base line data now. THE NEW COAL: PLASTICS & CLIMATE CHANGE

Single Stream, A Solution or A Problem?

    • Single stream was initiated by the garbage hauling industry, an industry whose profit margin depends on continual waste generation, rather than waste reduction. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the conflict of interest.


    • Think of your favorite bakery, yummy, chocolate cupcakes. Okay, now think of your baker as an end-user, the flour is like your recyclables, the feedstock, needed to make the product, your chocolate cupcakes. Single stream is akin to giving a baker flour with dirt in it, then telling him it’s his problem to get the dirt out. Single stream is “kick the can recycling,” the hauler who collects recycling via single stream, kicks the contamination problem to the end-user.


    • Increased contamination increases your carbon footprint, as well as the cost for your recycling program.


    • Because with single stream, a mechanical arm picks up the recycling container and dumps it in the single compartment truck, the string of Christmas lights, or animal carcass, or engine part, or diapers or garden hose, doesn’t get discovered until it is clogging up the machinery at the sorting facility. What dangers are workers in your local single stream facility being exposed to? Lawsuit settled in summer 2021 for under $30,000.


    • Incineration is NOT recycling. Some single stream facilities are connected to, or in very close proximity to Waste to Energy (WTE) facilities. WTE are incinerators that generate energy. If privately owned, good luck dropping by unannounced, to see whether your recyclables are being baled up and sold, or burned up.


    • Using glass as daily landfill cover is NOT recycling.


    • Is it really a good idea to have our recyclable assets controlled by a few, huge garbage hauling corporations? Companies on the Waste Today magazine list generated a total of $52.5 billion in revenue in 2020. Of this, $46.8 billion came from the top ten largest haulers. The top three largest are Waste Management with $15,460,000,000,
      Republic with $10, 300,000,000, and Waste Connections with $ 5,388,000,000.


    • If you had a computer to sell on eBay, you would not allow UPS to toss it in the back of their truck willy nilly. Nor would you allow UPS to decide where they are going to take it. You would want that asset treated like an asset, and you would instruct UPS to whom and where you wanted it delivered. Are your recyclables being treated like assets or trash?


    • Are your recyclables going to a domestic buyer? Do you know where that buyer is located? Does your recycling program collect stuff for which they have no market? What information is being made public?


    • Residential recycling grew out of the 1970’s movement, “Live Simply so that others can simply live”. Who will lose if you reuse, repair, restore, replace, compost, and take other waste reduction measures? Who wins when you waste? How are we affecting our children’s future on this planet, with our current consumption and disposal habits?


    • Recycling was supposed to be a low priority, after all those other Rs. A couple of generations have now been raised on trashed, non transparent recycling programs. They think continual consumption is fine, as long as you toss stuff in a “recycle” bin. Unfortunately, citizens now demand more plastic recycling, with little thought of the environmental or social justice implications of increased plastic waste.


    • Since Big Oil is taking a hit with reduction in the fossil fuel industry, they are turning to Plan B, plastics. Before you start pushing for more plastic recycling please read the following report and think how you would feel about such a facility being placed near your home. THE NEW COAL: PLASTICS & CLIMATE CHANGE
    • 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.



    • Single stream decreases citizen understanding of the recycling process, as well as their hands on involvement. The public has been dumbed down with single stream. Wake up! Beware of the cons, partial truths, and outright lies you may be told as you explore options to deal with your recyclable resources/assets.


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