Single stream recycling is a unique and easy to use form of recycling that offers many distinct advantages to waste management agencies and therefore benefits the world as a whole. Not many people have heard of single stream recycling and will have even less of an idea about how it works – if that’s the case for you, this guide should help.

What is Single Stream Recycling?

Single stream recycling is a recycling system for all kinds of materials –paper, card, metals, glasses, and many plastics. It involves them all being put in a single bin by those looking to recycle – the consumers. They are then taken to a recycling plant, also known as a material recovery facility (MRF). There they become processed and sorted individually. You might have heard the terms ‘commingled recycling’ or ‘single-sort recycling’ – these are all referring to single stream recycling.

How Does Single Stream Recycling Work?

According to Fluent Conveyors, once waste has been collected, it goes through several key stages for actual recycling. These stages include:

  1. The material being unloaded
  2. The material being placed onto a conveyer
  3. Items that aren’t recyclable being removed (this is a manual process and can be time consuming)
  4. The recyclable material is then moved along to a triple-deck screen
  5. If an item is too heavy or too light (like large containers or paper), it is removed
  6. Those heavier items drop down to the bottom level
  7. The lighter items move to the second level
  8. Glass containers are automatically broken
  9. What’s left is put under a magnet that takes away any magnetic metals like tin and steel cans
  10. A magnet with a reverse polarity, called an eddy current, pushes aluminium off the conveyer and into an aluminium bin
  11. Workers sort the cardboard and paper into separate bunkers, which are baled for shipping and processing.

This is a long process, but is highly convenient to the consumers. It involves a cooperative effort of both humans and machines.

What are the Benefits of Single Stream Recycling?

Single stream recycling is better for consumers who are not accustomed to recycling, as it allows them to put all materials in one bin without the need to separate materials themselves. This means more material ends up being recovered and recycled. The end resultof this is that recycling rates increase, and more and more consumers start to recycle their goods. They need less space for their collection containers and don’t need to spend as much time sorting.

Single Stream Recycling Disadvantages

Of course, all that time that the consumer saves is instead passed onto the workers at the MRF. However, division of labor and the efficiencies of modern plants mean that less net time is spent sorting. However, MRF operators have to incur more costs simply by paying more workers. This is theoretically okay because there’s a larger quantity of recycled goods, but single stream recycling leads to a decrease in recovered material quality. Broken glass and non-recyclable materials can enter the recycling bins and can compromise the quality of the recycled products. This is bad news for the world, as it is in everybody’s interest for recycled materials to be high quality and desired by manufacturers.

Written by

Sunil Trivedi

Sunil Trivedi is the Managing Director of Aqua Drink. With 15 years of experience in the water purification industry, Sunil and his team have been ensuring that his clients consume 100% potable water to lead a healthy life and keeping water-borne diseases miles away.