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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

What do you think?

Do you recycle at home or work?

See results

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.


Submit a Comment
  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    6 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Spartucusjones - Thanks for reading and commenting. You're so right - people who never before recycled are enthusiastic about it once a community adopts the Single-Stream method. I hope your area looks into it soon!

  • spartucusjones profile image

    CJ Baker 

    6 years ago from Parts Unknown

    I am all for the concept of single stream. It definitely makes the process simpler, which would no doubt encourage more to recycle. It is unfortunate that the area I live doesn't follow the single stream system. Thanks for providing this truly useful resource.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    6 years ago from Planet Earth

    Wow - thanks for the information on how this is done in various countries, nifwiseirff - you certainly have lived in many wonderful and interesting places! I'm not sure I could handle the confusing sorting and pick-up days you mentioned in Japan. Yes, Single Stream is incredibly convenient - and it has already started reducing the use of landfills for waste in my area. I hope it catches on in other cities, states and countries, very soon!

  • nifwlseirff profile image

    Kymberly Fergusson 

    6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

    Single stream would be so much more convenient! I had that in Australia - it makes it easy for households to recycle.

    In Japan, I had to sort my recycling into at least 7 different types, each with collections on different days, some weekly, some only monthly. Large waste needed to be specially 'ordered' and paid to be taken away. Impossible!

    Here in Germany, we have paper/card, plastic/cans, glass (3 different types), bio and other rubbish (not to mention large and garden waste). The glass needs to be taken to central collection points, but the rest is collected every 1-2 weeks.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    6 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, meloncauli! I have to say, the Single Stream cart has changed my habits regarding recycling. I used to have to run down the street catching my little blue bin, and it didn't hold much, so I just didn't bother. Now, I feel guilty if I put something in the trash that should have gone in the recycle bin. Glad you like the hub!

  • meloncauli profile image


    6 years ago from UK

    Great hub Marcy!

    I hope this catches on in our corner of the world.

    Voted up and interesting :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, adjkp25 - it does make you feel good when you know you're not adding to landfills. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • adjkp25 profile image


    7 years ago from Idaho

    Living out in the country the disposal company doesn't offer a recycling bin like they do for the city folk, we get blue garbage bags for our recyclables. It doesn't discourage us though because we usually fill it up every week. I'm very happy knowing that our family of four only produces about three bags of trash a week, the rest is recycled or composted.

    Voted up and useful

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    That's a great idea, Teaches, to repurpose anything possible. I remember how much my kids enjoyed playing in cardboard boxes when they were little! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your ideas!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    7 years ago

    Now this is my style of recycling, the easier the better. We try to recyle as much as possible at home. It is fun to see how you can reuse an item. I also would suggest that any large cardboard boxes can be donated to child care centers. They make great play items and art material.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Many thanks, Aviannovice - I agree; it's so much smarter to make recycling easy for everyone. I appreciate your comments!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, alocsin - single stream is supposed to cost less, because there are more people participating (so less expense for landfill), and communities get more money for the recycled materials. There's no need for sorting - it's all done at the processing plant. Thanksm as always, for your comments!

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 

    7 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    Voted up and awesome. I'm glad that this is finally being addressed in this manner. It makes a lot of sense to not have to sort your own material.

  • alocsin profile image

    Aurelio Locsin 

    7 years ago from Orange County, CA

    Does single-stream recycling cost more, because now you have to sort the garbage manually. I'm for recycling, whether single or mutliple-stream. Voting this Up and Useful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Margie - it was a new concept for us, too. But everyone seems to love it - I see the blue carts in front of almost every house on pick-up day, and I didn't notice nearly as many of the former bins prior to the new program. So glad you like the hub - thanks for commenting!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    You make a great point about the added weight rainwater contributes to waste that is processed for a per-pound fee, OpinionatedMan. As you said, if more people understand the economics, they'll appreciate how important it is to recycle. I appreciate your comments here!

  • Mmargie1966 profile image


    7 years ago from Gainesville, GA

    Excellent hub, Marcy! I've never heard of the single-stream program. I think more of us will recycle if it is made even easier than it already is.

    Great job!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    So true, Curiad, and the nice thing is that it then becomes a true habit and part of our daily life. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    I know just what you mean, Nettlemere - I chased my blue box-style bin down the block several times. Finally I just lost my enthusiasm for recycling - it created too much litter by being tossed around so much. Hope Lancaster gets a single-stream program soon; you will love it. Many thanks for reading and commenting!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I also live in a town that uses single stream recycling. I can say the same as both you Bill and Marcy, the easier we can make it for folks, the more they will use it.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, SmartAndFun - I hope you tell leaders in your current town that you'd like to see that program adopted. It makes recycling so easy and accessible for everyone. As with you, my actual garbage was dramatically reduced to just a tiny bag or two (like the ones you get at the grocery store!). I was amazed to see how much I'd been throwing away that could be reused somewhere. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Nettlemere profile image


    7 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

    I wish Lancashire would go for single stream recycling. We have blue boxes for plastic and glass, a bag for paper, a brown bin for garden waste and another bin of all other waste. The main hassle is losing the the bag and the boxes when they've been emptied and the wind blows.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile imageAUTHOR

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    7 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Billy - I think you and I have the same mindset. I'm embarrassed to admit that I was often lax about recycling until I got the single-stream cart. I cared (and was passionate) about the environment, but I sure didn't practice my beliefs all the time. Now, I cringe in guilt if I accidentally fail to recycle something.

    Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!

  • SmartAndFun profile image


    7 years ago from Texas

    The town we formerly lived in had single-stream recycling (although I didn't know the term for it until your hub) and it was great. It was so easy. Often, our huge recycling container was filled over the brim, and I would have one of the little 13-gallon white bags of actual landfill trash. I wish we had it now in our new town!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    7 years ago from Olympia, WA

    We have this in Olympia and I'm a big believe in it....and I'll tell you why. I am passionate about recycling and even I find it annoying to sort through the recycling....and if I'm passionate and feel that way, imagine how those who are not passionate feel. My guess is recycling would increase if it were made easier to do. We have to get converts one way or another and a sure fire way is to make it as easy as possible.

    Great hub Marcy!


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