To relate this to the our industry we are happy to try and provide the full story about recycling and our recommendations. I have mentioned the Single Stream versus Dual Stream "debate" in the past. If you remember discussing single stream, I'm sure you remember my view on the situation. We stand strongly behind the idea of not mixing items together (especially food and drink containers that don't tend to be the cleanest to begin with) only to later separate them. Since the sum of our goals is to optimize recycling and reduce waste we feel that we are pretty justified in our reasoning for this topic.
1. Recycling Rates. The largest single reason for "the switch" has been attributed to ease. We are a world constantly searching for the easier way. It's been said that when you make it easier more people will do it (which I fully agree with). The trouble is just because you get more doesn't mean it's the positive results you are seeking. For example; if you place an employment ad for a very specialized field in a little local paper you may receive a lot of interested applicants but they won't necessarily be qualified. Just because more items are getting thrown into the bin doesn't always mean that more items are actually being recycled into new products. Residuals or out throws are the items that have been placed in the bin but do not currently have an effective way to be reused. It is not debatable that single stream has a higher (if not significantly higher) residual rate. This will be reflected in two ways; some centers will deduct for contaminants (ie: a blanket 10% reduction) or other companies will simply let the money talk by reducing the rebates paid out. Even if you do a great job keeping the items rinsed; clean bottles will break, and rain will happen (both resulting in higher contamination)
Sum it up: Great, the township now has more participation in the recycling program and 30% more material in the bin (at pickup). After sorting the township now has 40% more material that is being trashed at the recycling center because it is contaminated.
2. Transportation Cost, fuel savings. This is a tough one because in some cases it could be accurate. For a small sized business who would need to pay for two dumpsters (commingle and paper) with little or no rebate for the material single stream, in a monetary stand point, makes more sense. The positive environmental impact is still greater in dual stream but single stream is better then trash (in most cases.. sometimes they are one in the same). Should you fit into the above description just be sure to double check with the hauler to ensure that it is actually being recycled. Trucks that pickup both the garbage and recycling at the same time, in the same truck (together) are in most cases are not handling the material in an environmentally friendly way. The cost savings,fuel savings argument typically does not work for larger townships or businesses. In most cases the rebate is greater for dual stream material and if the quantities collected are significant the difference in the rebate can mean a lot.
Sum it up: The cost saved in transportation fees (by those recycling substantial amounts) is typically less than the rebate lost. It is wise to evaluate this case by case but many times you aren't paying out for the transportation but you are not being paid as well for the material.
3. What is the real reason you recycle? If the reason you recycle is a financial one the idea of weighing the costs makes sense. If you feel that recycling is more of an ethical obligation and you are convicted to recycle every item to its fullest potential; your decision is quite clear.
Sum it up: Single stream is better then a landfill. Dual stream material typically has a much higher recyclability rate (it can be used to make more, higher end items because it is cleaner and contains less contamination). Technology in the single stream area is growing constantly but as stated so many times; it never makes sense to combine something to later try and pull it apart especially when dealing with "waste".