Scraponomics Episode 150: So what's the deal with single-stream recycling?

Sep 30, 2016, 02:41 PM

So what’s the deal with single-stream recycling?

We’ve actually talked about this before on Scraponomics, but I think it’s important to discuss again, especially since people ask us about it a lot at Friedland.

Simply put, we’re not fans of it. Here’s why.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of single-stream, the idea is that you can throw everything into one recycling bin, and it will all get sorted out later. Many cities around the country have implemented this as well.

The thing to remember is that at some point, somewhere, someone has to separate those materials in order for them to be recycled cost-effectively.

The trouble with single-stream is that, while it’s suppose to make it “easier” for the public to recycle, it’s extremely difficult to monitor, and it creates a total nightmare on the other end.

Here’s one example…

Say you have some paper you’d like to recycle, so you throw it in a single-stream recycling bin you see on the street. So far so good. Then, five minutes later someone comes up and throws a broken glass bottle in the bin. The problem is paper can’t have any glass shards mixed in it when it’s sent to a paper mill for re-pulping because it will likely break their equipment. So a lot of the time, domestic mills won’t even buy single-stream material. Similar issues are the case plastics and other commodities.

Here’s the kicker. When commodity prices are high, some domestic and foreign mills will grudgingly take single-stream material...and that’s when a lot of cities decided to implement these programs, because they thought they’d make money doing so.

Guess what? Now that commodity prices are down, even foreign mills don’t want single-stream material, and cities are now being CHARGED for something they could be PAID for if they would keep the material separated from the beginning.

[Scraponomics is a two-minute radio segment, so I'm limited to what can fit into one episode. I'll go over what we feel are some potential solutions next week.]

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