Home News Single-Stream Recycling Generates Debate

Single-Stream Recycling Generates Debate

Municipal Recycling, Auto Shredding, Metallics

The pros and cons over single stream recycling generated significant debate during a WasteExpo session.

May 22, 2002

The debate over single-stream recycling continues to be one of the most widely discussed topics in the collection and processing side of the business. During the WasteExpo program this topic generated a fair amount of discussion as a recycling center and a paper mill bandied about the opportunities, as well as pitfalls of using this system.

From its modest start, more single-stream recycling MRFs are now operating in the United States. At the present time around 80 single-stream units operate in the United States, with the majority being located on the West Coast.

According to Mike Benedetto, vice president of Tidewater Fiber Corp., a Chesapeake, Va., recycling company, the benefits to this procedure include lowering the cost of collecting the material; reducing the number of compartments that need to be filled, lowering the number of times that collection trucks need to be unloaded, and the ability to standardize the fleet of vehicles.

For communities, the participation rate often increases due to setting up a single-stream program. For Virginia Beach, participation increased from 50 percent with a multi-stream container and 75 percent with the 95 gallon container used for single-stream collections.

While the collection figures increase significantly with single-stream programs, the trade-off is often in the reduction in quality.

The cost to build the different types of MRFs vary: a single-stream system may cost as much as $6.8 million; around $4.8 million for a dual system; and $2.3 million for a pre-sort system.

According to Jerry Powell, editorial director of Resource Recycling Magazine, studies have found that the residue generated through single-stream recycling averages around 16.6 percent, compared to residual amounts of 6.6 percent for dual sort systems, and 4.3 percent for source-separated material.

The disparity in quality levels achieved through each of these collection/sortation system is a cause for concern for many end consumers. George Elder, vice president of materials management for SP Recycling, the collection arm for SP Newsprint, Atlanta, Ga., notes that the quality issue is very important. SP Newsprint operates 25 collection plants and two recycled-content newsprint mills.

Broken glass is one of the biggest concerns. Broken glass shards being mixed in with the collected and processed fibers creates tremendous problems for consumers. “Generally speaking paper companies don’t like it,” Elder noted. As for glass, the material is “bad, bad, bad.” In addition to the damage done to the equipment, there are safety concerns that arise.

Supporting this concern, Elder pointed out that even a minimal of contaminants being mixed in with the fiber can be destructive to the equipment. Additionally, having the contaminants being mixed in with the paper increases the chance of the finished product not meeting the quality levels required by end consumers.

In conclusion, Elder said that single-stream with the current technology is not great. Also, while glass continues to be a major problem, if the single-stream collection continues to grow, other materials could also pose problems. Materials like textiles, electronics, and batteries could become future problems for consumers.

While Benedetto acknowledges that broken glass can be a problem, the increased amount of material being collected, as well as new technology, will continue to reduce the concerns over quality of the processed material.

(The issue of Single-Stream Recycling will be discussed during the Paper Recycling Conference & Exposition, scheduled for next month in New Orleans. Speakers at this session will include Steve Ragiel, Waste Management; Rina McGuire, Cascades; and Harvey Gershman, GBB Consultants. For more information on the conference click on the following link -- Paper Conference.)

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