In our last blog, we addressed single-stream (also known as single-sort) recycling and why the trend is declining across the country. As you read that, you might have been wondering – what are the other options for recycling methods? Businesses of all kinds generate quite a bit of waste and are concerned with ensuring that they are being environmentally friendly in their waste removal. It’s understandable, then, that curiosity about recycling methods arises.
In addition to single-stream recycling, dual-stream and multi-stream are also methods used for collecting and sorting recyclables in preparation for reuse. Let’s take a look at the difference between the three methods, and the pros and cons of each.
Though popular for many years, single-stream is waning in popularity due in part to China’s recently implemented restrictions on accepting items for recycling. Because single-stream means that all recyclable items, regardless of material, are together in one container, the opportunity for contamination is very high. For example, non-recyclable items are more likely to be placed in a recyclables container if someone doesn’t have to pay as much attention to sorting materials at all. However, single-stream machines aren’t perfect – glass can get crushed and caught in cardboard, pieces of metal might slip through and end up sorted with paper, and so on.
While certainly convenient and a great way to encourage recycling, single-stream is expensive – especially with China’s new restrictions – and more waste removal services are moving away from providing the option for recycling.
Dual-stream recycling is exactly what it sounds like – two different categories for recyclables. Instead of throwing everything into one container, as with single-stream, people can split up recyclables by general category. Paper and cardboard products go into one bin while metals, glasses, and plastics in another. This is a convenient solution for a business – think restaurant or bar, especially, but even an office where people are regularly consuming soda from cans or bottles as well as going through paper at a large pace. You’ve probably seen it in action – one waste basket for cans and bottles, and another for paper goods.
Dual stream helps prevent against contamination of glass or other materials within paper and cardboard recycling, but it is less convenient for the person recycling as it does require at least two bins and a level of sorting, albeit a simplified version.
Multi-stream recycling, as you might have guessed, requires a more extensive level of sorting from the consumer. Paper, glass, cans, plastics…all have to go into their own separate container. At a business or at a home, this can be time-consuming and take up space given that each product requires its own bin.
This method is more work on the recycler’s end, but on our end – the waste management and processing side of things – it means less contamination.
That said, though, there is of course plenty of potential for human error. We all throw things into the wrong bin – plastics into a bin meant for metals, or a plastic bottle into the trash by accident or vice versa.
Plus, multi-stream recycling requires a lot more collection equipment and a bigger time commitment during collection on our end. Instead of having one or two compartments on a truck to toss in and separate materials, we need compartments for each individual type of material.
Because of the time commitment and expense on both ends of the recycling process, for the consumers and waste management entities, it’s easy to see why multi-stream recycling fell out of fashion and single-stream started to emerge as a new trend.
With single-stream becoming less popular, municipalities, companies, and waste management entities are exploring all options to find a balance between doing what is best to promote and implement the important practice of recycling, while doing it efficiently and doing it well.
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