Single-stream recycling has come to my home at last…

3 minute read

September 29, 2014, 6:54 PM

So I went to take out the recycling after I got home from work today, and encountered this:

A dumpster marked "SINGLE STREAM"

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s a dumpster.  And yes, it is, in fact, a dumpster.  This particular dumpster, however, is for recycling, and replaced a row of plastic garbage bins that previously served the same purpose.  The old bins were marked for what one should put in them.  Half were marked for mixed paper, and half were marked “commingled”, i.e. for cans, glass, and plastic items.  Now we’re using single-stream recycling, which does away with all of the categories, and therefore you put all of your recycling into one big container.

And therein lies the beauty of single-stream recycling.  It’s highly user-friendly, because it’s all a matter of yes and no.  If it’s able to be recycled, then it goes into the recycling bin, regardless of what sort of recyclable item it is.  If it’s not able to be recycled, then it goes in the trash.  The idea is that it’s more effective for all of the different recycling to be sorted out downstream from the user, so just put all of the recyclables in a single container, and let the company handle it from there.

Back when I managed an office for a nonprofit organization, I was responsible for implementing a single-stream program in the office when it became available at our building in 2009.  Along with emails explaining the program to the staff, I made the following handy-dandy guide that went up at various locations in the office:

My guide for recycling in the office  My guide for recycling in the office

And then this is what our trash cans looked like at the office after the program began:

The trash can and recycling bin for the single-stream program

Note the relative sizes.  The recycling bin was the standard seven gallon (28 quart) recycling bin that you would expect to see at an office.  The trash can was a tiny 0.75 gallon container that hung inside the recycling bin.  That ought to give you an idea about how much recycling there was compared to trash.  And it held true: I almost never filled the little black container.  Most stuff was recycled.

Now here’s the kicker, though, when it comes to these things: single-stream recycling only works when everyone follows the guidelines, since we all put our recyclables into the same dumpster, and someone who is sloppy with their recycling could contaminate the load with nonrecyclables.  As I was told when the program was implemented at my office building, if the load is contaminated beyond a certain percentage threshold, none of it is recycled, and instead treated as trash.  Basically, the company says “the hell with it” when that threshold is reached because it becomes more effort than it is worth to try to rectify it.  It’s sad but true.  My recycling could be perfect, but if my neighbors throw just anything into the recycling dumpster, my efforts at good recycling will be wasted, because the whole thing will get trashed for going over the contamination threshold.

And on top of everything else, the new dumpster is big and cavernous.  That means that I now can handle my recycling exactly the same way that I do my trash, i.e. bag it up in a big garbage bag, and then hurl it into the dumpster.  No more emptying bags into the little containers, and messing with the lids on said containers to get them to go back down.

So all in all, I’m pleased with this development.  I just hope that my neighbors do single-stream correctly along with me by making sure that their recyclables and their trash are kept separate.

Categories: House