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Single-Container Recycling

Updated on September 20, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy lives in Austin, Texas, and has written about environmental issues and conservation for more than a decade.

A Single-Stream Recycling Program at Work

One-Stop Recycling: Single-Stream Carts

If you find sorting your recyclable materials to tedious and time-consuming, you might become an environmental convert if your community transitions to a 'single-stream' system.

Single-stream recycling provides a huge incentive for consumers to support the need to repurpose paper, plastic, glass and metal rather than throwing those items into the trash. Everything goes into one cart – no need to sort, and you gain many cubic feet of extra space in your formerly overstuffed trash cart. What’s not to like!

It takes a bit of time to transition a community into a single-stream recycling program, especially if it’s a large urban area. New carts have to be ordered and delivered (which can take months in areas with large populations), new equipment might be needed for curbside pickups, and contracts have to be executed with recycling plants that are fitted for the single-stream process. But even large cities see positive results soon after implementing the program.

For example, Austin Texas (long noted for being environmentally aware) began phasing in the program in the latter months of 2008, with a few months needed to deliver the 90-gallon carts to all households served by its municipal solid waste services. With the city’s ambitious goal (targeted for success by the year 2040) to divert at least 90-percent of solid waste materials away from landfills, the capacity of the huge carts alone was a huge incentive for consumers to begin recycling.

For many residents, using a convenient one-toss cart three times as large as the open, 30-gallon bins was the selling point to become greener and more aware.

The city noticed results within the first two years of the program. Curbside waste (the stuff that can’t be recycled and goes to landfills) dropped by nearly 10 percent – which translates to a 13,000-ton reduction in landfill use. At the same time, curbside recycling increased by more than 50 percent. If your waste service charges a fee based on the size of the cart you use, you might even find you can switch to a smaller cart and reduce your monthly bill.

Single-stream recycling saves time and lets you throw everything into the same cart

Single-stream recycling means there's no need to separate plastics, glass, paper and metal.
Single-stream recycling means there's no need to separate plastics, glass, paper and metal. | Source

Single-Stream Recycling Makes it Easy to Go Green

Rather than using an open rectangular bin for recycling, which exposes everything to rain and wind (and can create problems when papers blow out and toss down the block into your neighbor's yard), single-stream programs issue each customer a large cart that resembles a regular garbage cart, complete with wheels and a lid. As with the standard recycle bins, the carts are generally bright blue, to indicate recycling.

Consumers simply toss everything into the cart without sorting or stacking them into separate types of materials. They are later separated mechanically at the recycling plant. Fast, simple and easy for the consumer, and Earth-friendly for the planet.

Puente Hills Landfill in Los Angeles California: A Pollution Nightmare

Why We Should Recycle

In addition to saving the planet, conserving land that might otherwise have been used for landfills and reusing materials such as plastic, paper and metal, recycling has health benefits, too. Some landfills are reaching capacity, and are as large as entire subdivisions or suburban communities.

The Puente Hills Landfill in the Los Angeles area is now more than 150 meters high (more than 450 feet); as tall as some skyscrapers. The dump has been in use since about 1957, and has only gotten larger over the years and is now considered part of the area's geological make-up.

Large landfills become breeding grounds for roaches, rats and other vermin, and the Puente Hills installation is no different. As with other communities near landfills, residents near this gigantic pile of garbage are at risk from the pests thriving there as well as the methane landfills generate when garbage and waste ferments and releases gases.

Garbage attracts flies and other insects as well, some of which travel into nearby residential areas and spread germs. Landfills also put communities at risk if hazardous wastes are included in household garbage, since everything in a landfill can seep into the eco-system below and around it through rain and runoff.

Now more than a half-century old, the Puente Hills Landfill is expected to reach capacity in just a few years.

Recycling Reduces the Environmental Impact on Landfills

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Effect of Recycling on The Planet

Each ton of waste diverted from landfills save many taxpayer dollars in the cost of transporting the waste and maintaining the landfill. As time goes by, communities will also save the cost of acquiring yet more acres for waste disposal, which conserves the property for higher uses.

Recycling is just one of the steps consumers can make to help reduce landfills. Pay attention to whether items you purchase can be recycled or are made from recycled material. By buying green, you’ll help divert waste material from landfills and help repurpose paper, plastic and metal that had another life and another form before it was converted into another product.

Some items are actually harmful to the environment when carelessly put in landfills. Oil cans, toner cartridges and anything containing chemicals can leach harmful substances into the land and the water source beneath it. You can help the environment at every stage if you purchase from environmentally concerned manufacturers, recycle everything that can be used again and watch carefully what you do discard in your curbside waste.


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