Ultimately, the choice rides on cost and local preference

Feb 24, 2009 | 06:06 AM |

The more, the dirtier. That's the cynical take on curbside recycling. But letting community residents toss aluminum cans, glass bottles, discarded catalogs and plastic milk jugs into a single bin does accomplish the task of capturing more recyclables and extending the life of landfills. Often, "single stream" also is cheaper to collect for a municipality or private hauler.

The trend has stirred anxiety among aluminum recyclers, paranoid about plastic residue, and papermakers leery of bits of glass.

"The movement toward single stream has allowed for larger quantities and a greater variety of recyclables to be picked up. They're not only taking newspaper but corrugated cardboard, magazines, office-grade paper and junk mail," said Lori Scozzafava, deputy executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America. As for plastics, "communities are expanding to narrow-neck containers and we're even seeing some moving into yogurt cups and deli containers."

The result is a heavier burden on materials recovery facilities (MRFs). They do the separating and cleaning that turns the stuff into usable—and usually saleable—commodity streams. The strategies and investment choices of MRFs determine whether single-stream product matches the quality standards of dual-stream facilities.....

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