Single-Stream Recycling

Publish Date: 2003

The term “Single-Stream Recycling” refers to a process in which all recyclable manufactured materials are collected from residences and businesses in a community in a single, mixed form and subsequently separated and processed into marketable secondary materials at a materials recovery facility.

As the definition implies, there are two elements, or parts, of a single-stream recycling system that must be implemented in tandem:

  • Single-Stream Collection of Recyclables • In single-stream recycling systems, recyclables are collected in a single mixed form. To facilitate collection, residents are generally provided with (or are required to use) a rollout, lidded container of a certain size (32-, 64-, or 96-gallon sizes are typical). The recyclables can then be collected using standard semi-automated or automated refuse collection vehicles. In some cases, the collection frequency can be reduced from weekly to every other week, with resulting cost savings. The use of a large container allows for the collection of additional recyclable materials (such as junk mail, old corrugated cardboard (OCC), and mixed paper) as well as the reduction in collection frequency due to the additional storage capacity provided by the container. It also provides convenience and ease of use to the resident and/or business. In some programs, residents use plastic bags, rather than rigid containers, to set out the commingled recyclables.
  • Single-Stream Processing of Recyclables • The implementation of a single-stream recycling system also requires the availability of a materials recovery facility (MRF) that is able to accept and process recyclables that are collected in a single-stream form. There has been a tremendous growth in the implementation of the single-stream recycling approach in the last eight years. In 1995, there were five single-stream MRFs. In 2000, there were 64 single-stream MRFs. These facilities represented more than 20% of the MRF processing capacity in the U.S. in the year 20002 (See Table 1). The number of single-stream MRFs was expected to grow to over 100 by the end of 2002.

As indicated above, the growth in single-stream MRFs has been accompanied by a growth in single-stream recyclables collection programs. It is noteworthy that a number of the most aggressive and dedicated recycling communities have converted to single-stream recyclables collection programs. In addition, a number of large cities have converted to single-stream. Among the converts are: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; Los Angeles, California; Plano, Texas.

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