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[greenyes] Single Stream
Yesterday, Brenda asked whether "anyone know[s] of successful single stream
recycling programs? The DC DPW will be piloting a single stream recycling
system on one of its
routes.  Some benefits of the collection system will be that the
semi-automated collection will reduce worker back injury and strain and
make the collection program more efficient.  The drawbacks may be
increased contamination of recyclables and a larger reject rate at the

The issues surrounding single stream collection are complex. The fact that
its proponents often use grossly overstated claims only serves to distort
rational consideration.

Two such claims relate to collection automation and participation, namely
that truck automation is tied to single stream and that participation
improves with single stream.

In fact, both semi-automated and fully-automated collection vehicles can be
used with or without single stream.  The level of possible automation
depends only on the type of receptacle used by households to set out their
recyclables and whether it can be lifted by the flippers or other automated
mechanism on the truck.  Similarly, as described in the careful analysis by
Eureka Recycling that Tim steered folks to in response to Brenda's note, it
is the selection of a cart (as opposed to bins) that is responsible for
improved participation, not single stream, in that they found the
improvement with a cart in two-stream collection as well.  Before anyone
runs out and buys carts for their town, be aware that they are very

The defining element in single stream is who will run the program.  This is
because there are substantial additional processing costs entailed with
single stream in the form of a whole new front end separation module to sort
the fibers from the containers previously done by households before the
material reaches the MRF -- costs that substantially subtract from the
tangible gains in collection savings.

Operators less committed to recycling than we might prefer will be under
substantial pressure to ramp up through-puts in order to drive down variable
costs to justify the new single stream program.  Doing that, of course will
force up residue rates to the high 20's and indeed into the 30 percent
range, as we have already seen.  When this fact becomes well known, we can
expect our good friends like John Tierney to write scathing exposes that
recycling is a big joke, that will again undercut our critical credibility
with the public.  We can also expect to see the national waste companies use
their putitively lower sort costs to force bona fide MRFs out of business,
in a variation of Greshanm's law in which bad money forces good money out of
circulation.  This is already going on, as an example, in New York State.
The implications for us are enormous.


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell    (608) 438-9062
email: anderson@no.address

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