Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quality, Not Quantity.

Unlike the month before a majority of the bins are full, some are even overflowing, switching to a single stream recycling program appears to be a success but wait, hold the presses.

Single stream recycling has proven to be more enticing to most participants. It seems easier, less to know and less to do; who isn't about easier these days? The unfortunate result is a harder job at the recycling facility because despite higher participation there is also higher amounts of contamination. Our sorters who previously handled paper separation have transitioned into the mixed materials. Yes, garbage always happened occasionally (even when it was strictly paper) but not on the scale that the single stream collection has provided. Not only is sorting the mixed items not the most sought after job but it is also costly for the materials recovery facility who pays per ton for the material to be unloaded only to pay a higher per ton rate to have the waste/contaminants hauled away. As a recycling company who is focused on the true art of recycling it is painful to watch the residual rate of your facility rise, without being about to control it's progression. A majority of the issue is the recycler(s) in general, whether they are following instructions, properly educated, and throwing the right things in the right bins. Some of the issue, and much more difficult to address is the weather; material received on a wet, muddy, day is trouble (resulting in much higher contamination, slower run times, and much more costly to process and reclaim). The hold ups and downgrades at the materials recovery facility (MRF) don't even begin to cover the lost potential at the actual end user. People who process plastic aren't thrilled about getting wet paper that hung on to the bottle for a ride nor are paper processors thrilled about their potential glass mosaic hitchhikers.

So, its difficult for me to decipher, are the published increased results taking in to account the increased waste?  Does every environmentally conscious person who "campaigned" for single stream processing understand the negative impact that is associated with processing recyclables in this manner (although far less impactful than throwing the material in a landfill)?

I am all for increasing recycling but it's difficult when you are unsure if the true recycling impact has actually increased or if there is just more stuff in the bin. Well, as I have expressed in the past, the public has spoken and single stream is the wave of the future. Technology will continue to improve and therefore material quality should also continue on the same path but it's a tough transition to make when you feel like moving forward involves taking a few steps back.


  1. I'll say what you were too polite to say. People are lazy when it comes to recycling. My goodness. Plastic and glass in one container, paper in another. How hard could that be? Weak minded municipal representatives acquiesce to the whiners by going to the single stream waste and recycling methods.

    Under the guise of a less expensive collection method, the elected officials only look at the here and now. After reading your article, you have confirmed my suspicions related to costs...that today's relatively cheap pricing is going to increase in short order.

  2. Amen. I sometimes feel like a parent watching a child making a mistake. You feel like you have the knowledge and experience to help them avoid the pain of potential failure but sometimes they just will not listen. We are hopeful that a more environmentally focused outlook and equipment changes can help push things in the right direction.