Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Single-Stream Recycling Programs

I'm someone who came to recycling late in the curve, put off by the amount of work that used to be involved, sorting plastics, metals and paper and then remembering the various collection days.  But now I'm completely committed thanks to Baltimore City's single-stream recycling program.  All recyclable materials are picked up at the same time from one bin, the hope being that more people will participate in a program with such a low barrier to entry.  If I'm any indication, it works.

I've read some of the downsides to single-stream recycling.  There are up-front capital costs to municipalities interested in converting to the single-stream system.  Also there is a much larger chance for cross-contamination of products, which makes sense.  This can cause paper to be consistently "down-cycled" into lower value uses.  It also increases the likelihood of recyclables winding up in landfills because of contamination and a lack of marketability.

I wonder which option brings in the largest amount of successfully recycled material.  Is it better to get high-quality, contamination-free recyclables from fewer people, or to collect from a far larger segment of the population but run the risk that some percentage of that collection may be rendered non-recyclable or be prevented from recycling to its highest potential?
I have no idea how to find that answer.  In the meantime though I'm happy that single-stream recycling exists.  Otherwise I wouldn't do it, and I really do want to participate.

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