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August 2007
Single stream recycling receives praises Employees work on the quality control line for newspaper at WM Recycle America LLC. E-mail the author

The mayor of Plano, Texas is happy to sing the praises of single-stream recycling after Allied Waste Industries Inc. spent $2 million upgrading its facility in her city.

“Their state-of-the-art recycling facility makes it easy for our residents and our commercial businesses to recycle without sorting,” said Mayor Pat Evans.

The facility in Plano first opened in the mid-1990s, introducing the Dallas-Fort Worth region to single-stream recycling – a process that allows recyclable materials to be mixed together into one container for separation at the facility.

Allied Waste completed its new, state-of-the-art, technology improvements in June, adding new innovations such as computer-controlled, infrared technology that recognizes and separates various types of plastics without human interaction.

“The programs that Allied Waste set in place have helped the City of Plano to move towards our goal of increasing sustainability,” Evans said. She said there have not been any drawbacks and that she would recommend single-stream to other cities.

“The improvements have helped Allied Waste streamline its operations,” said Jim Lattimore, district manager for the Dallas-Fort Worth area at Allied Waste.

While not willing to release volumes or sales figures, Lattimore said that municipalities under contract with Allied Waste have reported tremendous increases in participation when converted to single-stream.

Recycling rates increase from as low as 10 percent to as high as 50 percent, Lattimore said. “This is basically because recycling is so easy. All recycables can be mixed together in one container for separation at the material-recovery facility.”

Materials processed at the Plano facility are shipped to more than 100 mills across the country. Phoenix-based Allied Waste, which is the second largest solid-waste company in the United States, has 57 material-recovery facilities across the nation.

“We are working to maximize the utilization of our current facilities, and will open new centers when the market indicates the need is there,” Lattimore said.

WM Recycle America LLC – a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest solid-waste company – operates 29 single-stream facilities across the country. In 2006, the facilities sold over two million tons of recycable materials.

“We have seen recycled tons increase up to 30 percent following the change to a single-stream system,” said Richard Abramowitz, spokesman for WM Recycle America.

Abramowitz said Houston-based Waste Management expects to open new single-stream facilities in Maryland, New Jersey and Florida this year. The company will open two more facilities, one in Massachusetts and another in Wisconsin, in 2008.

“Single stream is beneficial because of decreased collection costs,” he said. “Collection agencies are able to collect more efficiently by going to compacting vehicles and in some instances using the same truck for refuse collection.”

Since the introduction of single-stream recycling, the method continues to grow in popularity, said Tim Goodman, president of Tim Goodman & Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Minnesota.

Goodman cited a study by American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) that found almost 27 percent of the population with curbside collection had access to single-stream collection in 2005, compared to only 10 percent in 2000.

Single-stream often reduces collection costs, Goodman said. Most single-stream programs use lidded carts on wheels instead of plastic recycling bins. He said this allows for the use of automated or semi-automated collection methods.

Since the lidded carts on wheels hold more than plastic bins, many communities have been able to go to an every-other-week collection schedule, Goodman said.

Goodman said a number of surveys indicate that people like the convenience of having a one-wheeled cart they can put their recyclables in and not have to worry about separating materials or carrying two or more plastic bins outside to the curb.

But there are drawbacks to single-stream recycling, Goodman said. Some of the material ends up as processing residual that requires disposal. The percent of processing residuals typically seen for dual-stream recycling facilities is 5 to 12 percent, while single-stream facilities have reported numbers as high as 20 percent or more, he said.

Goodman said there are also reports that when the collection of all recyclables are placed in one container, there is a problem with materials getting cross-contaminated.

“The most common example of this is paper being contaminated with glass during the collection or processing of the material,” Goodman said.

“Though glass is the poster child for this issue, there have been problems with other materials such as paper contaminated with metal and plastics, and plastics with glass.

Plus, when glass markets require color- sorted glass, singl­e-stream recycling has resulted in a loss of recovered product or has required the addition of expensive processing equipment that color-sorts the mixed glass, Goodman said.

“Where there are few other market options and where the addition of optical scanning technology for the color-separation of glass is cost-prohibitive, this has resulted in situations where glass collected for recycling ends up going to a landfill for disposal.”

Goodman said this could lead to a reduction in the material that is recycled and it could add to the residuals that require disposal in a landfill.

“So in a nutshell, has single-stream recycling increased recycling? In many cases it probably has, especially for paper and maybe plastic containers. But to say it has as a blanket statement would probably not be accurate,” Goodman said.