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Knowledge Base // Waste Industry // MSW

Here's What You Should Know About Single-Stream Recycling

Learn why the single-stream recycling method isn’t working, and how your business can make its collection method more efficient.

Shelby Bell | July 6, 2018


What's the deal with single-stream recycling?

Single-stream recycling refers to the process of collecting all materials (paper, plastic, metals, glass, cardboard) in the same bag or recycling bin. Many companies have adopted this process because of its simplicity. However, the convenience comes at a cost. Continue reading to learn why the single-stream process isn't working, and how your business can make its collection method more efficient.


What are the problems?

To get into the problems, we need to go back in time a couple of decades. Throughout the 1980's, some people were skeptical about recycling and believed it wasn't worth the time and money. As you can imagine, these problems made recycling rates very low. When the single-stream ideology was created in the 1990's, the goal was to make recycling easier and more convenient while cutting collection costs. Single-stream recycling increased recycling participation and nearly a fifth of U.S. communities adopted this recycling process.

While single-stream got people to recycle more, several problems arise that made it ineffective:


Your greasy pizza boxes mixed in with your white paper and broken glass can't be processed at the recycling facility. Recycling is only effective when the materials are sorted, so they remain clean, valuable and free of impurities.


The nation’s largest recyclers closed 21% of their single-stream recycling facilities in the last two years.


Single-stream collection depends on large, outdated hauling trucks, unequipped sorting centers and machinery, and inefficient hauling routes, all requiring expensive upkeep and maintenance.


Because of heavy contamination, inefficient sorting, and consumer error, an average of 20% of recycled materials still end up in landfills.


Many city recycling programs are often combinations of multiple programs introduced at different times, resulting in many inefficiencies and incorrect recycling processes.


The Solution? Clean-stream recycling.

Clean-stream recycling involves sorting materials by the following streams: Cardboard, Commingled (glass, aluminum, plastic), Mixed Paper and Compost. By separating your materials before collection, your items stay clean all the way to the recycling facility, making it easier and more efficient for materials to be processed. This collection method leads to higher recycling rates and significant cost-savings. While tossing all of your recyclables in the same bin is the easier option, clean-stream retains the materials' end value.


Interested in learning more about clean-stream recycling or how RoadRunner can help you? Get in touch with us, and we'll be happy to help you get started. Thank you for reading!



Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.