If time is money, then single-stream recycling should never have begun. Spending less time to recycle properly is costing the country, particularly individual municipalities, more money than it can afford to spend.
Single-stream recycling consists of recycling all materials in one receptacle, and experts credit this system as the reason why Americans are participating in recycling at all. Many problems plague the country’s system of recycling waste, but topping the list are contaminated recyclables, confusion about recycling, and the country’s attitude toward recycling.
Contaminated recyclables are the reason why China discontinued its arrangements with the United States to take the bulk of our recyclable waste. It is also the primary issue for rising costs to handle our own recyclable waste.
Confusion About Recycling
When the country implemented recycling practices, they required more time. We rinsed containers and separated materials in appropriate receptacles, mainly for glass, paper, plastic and aluminum.
Acceptable, but not Curbside- Many recyclable items, which include but are not restricted to batteries, Christmas lights, electronics and plastic grocery bags, must be processed at specific facilities.
Not Acceptable- Some items, like pizza boxes, egg cartons, diapers and syringes are just made for the landfill no matter what. Acceptable recyclable items are rendered unrecyclable trash when they are stained with grease, food or other contaminants.
Country’s Attitude Toward Recycling
Americans jumped on this bandwagon of convenience and the American Forest and Paper Association contend that in over a span of eleven years, community participation went from 29 percent to 80 percent. On top of that, a Harris Poll survey conducted in October 2018 relates that 66 percent of the participants claimed that they would not recycle if it was not so effortless.
Though American participation in single-stream recycling is increasing, so too are the materials that we are attempting to recycle, which is a two-fold problem.
- We attempt to recycle items that are not recyclable.
- We do not properly maintain what IS recyclable.
How Programs Operate
The majority of recycling facilities in the country run single-stream programs. Though these items are sorted once they reach the facility, machines that do the separating cannot distinguish between all manner of items, so a lot of the acceptable recyclable items become useless because of the contamination caused by mingling different materials together. The Container Recycling Institute has determined that about 17 percent of bottles and 33 percent of cans get incorrectly sorted. Once this happens, it is impossible for the machines to correct the error and nearly half of the total effort is rendered useless.
Single-stream recycling is encouraging us to recycle more items curbside, but this process is counterproductive to recycling in the first place. According to a study conducted in Saint Paul, MN, in 2002, multi-stream curbside collection every other week is extremely more successful than weekly or biweekly dual- or single-stream curbside collection. This success is only increased if recyclable items are properly maintained.
At Central Kentucky Fiber Resources, LLC we encourage source separation that allows our Industrial Processing facility to avoid many of the pitfalls the industry is currently facing. We are always available to help you with your recycling questions and needs.