Multi vs. Single Stream Recycling

May 23rd, 2017

Do you recycle correctly?

 

Today’s post is by Mike Figueroa, Assistant Director of Customer Services at SafeSourcing

Not long ago, if you wanted to participate in recycling programs, you had to have several different bins in your home that separated glass, plastic, and paper. But increasingly we see bins in public businesses that simply say “recycling”, and have a single roll-away blue container accompany our regular trash cans. In a nutshell, the old system I described is called “multi-stream” recycling, and the second system is known as “single-stream” or “mixed” recycling.

The advantage of single-stream is that it allows users to fill a single recycling container with almost any kind of recyclable material. This in turn makes it easier to participate in recycling programs, because it doesn’t require any pre-sorting by the person disposing of the material. This ease of use dramatically increases the amount of material that is actually recycled (usage triples on average), whereas there was a lot less participation in recycling programs when consumer had to do their own sorting. There are some limitations however.

There are actually a lot of materials you cannot recycle in the typical single-stream recycling program. Most of these banned materials have their own recycling program, such as electronics recycling centers, composting centers, etc. Users must prevent these materials from going into their recycling:

  •  Food waste
  • Grass, leaves, or any kind of yard clippings
  • Styrofoam of any kind
  • T-shirt bags (plastic grocery bags) or any kind of plastic film
  • Medical or hygienic waste of any sort
  • Electronics or batteries

There are two reasons for this:

 

  1. Perhaps the most important reason, is that the above materials contaminate the materials that are meant to be recycled. No facility will ever be able to separate materials down to 100% purity. When there is glass or food in the bales of cardboard that are collected to be recycled, it lowers the quality of the product, therefore lowering its reusability. If material is contaminated badly enough, it just goes to a landfill anyway, making the effort to recycle it pointless. Furthermore, having food, battery acid or medical waste be a part of the recycled material used later to hold someone’s meal may have unknown health consequences.
  2. The sorting facility can become damaged by inappropriate use of materials. A nail stuck in a sheet of cardboard for instance, can ruin the very expensive machinery meant to break down the material into paper fibers.
  3. Most facilities sort recyclable materials they receive both mechanically, and by hand. Food, medical waste, and electronics can be hazardous to handle. At the very least, be considerate of those that have to sort through your recycling, and don’t expose them to waste that could be dangerous to their health.

The bottom line is that recycling hasn’t advanced to the point that we can dispose of it the same way we would anything we typically throw away. There is still some degree of sorting we have to do. Without this, if a large enough percentage of users inappropriately recycled, it could cause the whole enterprise to become too expensive to maintain, or too contaminated to reuse. However, with the simple rules of what to exclude listed above, we can maintain and even increase the 33% of waste that we recycle in the United States.

For more information on how SafeSourcing can assist your team with this process or on our “Risk Free” trial program, please contact a SafeSourcing Customer Service Representative. We have an entire customer services team waiting to assist you today.

 

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