Single Stream Recycling: Explaining the Waste Knot

A New Dialogue on Single Stream

How We Got Into This “Waste Knot”

Reported 2017 annual revenue from the four largest consolidated waste hauling companies in U.S., in USD

  • Waste Management — $14.5 billion [6]
  • Republic Services — $10 billion [7]
  • Waste Connections — $4.63 billion [8]
  • Advanced Disposal — $1.5 billion [9]

Single Stream and the Waste Knot

What Engaged Citizens and Cities Can Do

  1. Bring citizens organizing on this issue into the local planning process. Citizens have made the difference in every jurisdiction that has a successful recycling program.
  2. Use local and state bonds for recycling economic development infrastructure. Do not wait for federal government funding. Addressing local infrastructure includes considering revitalized transfer stations, compost sites, resource recovery industrial parks, reuse enterprise centers; plus undertaking administrative tasks such as zoning, rate setting, and franchise fairness.
  3. Teach how to properly recycle and compost and the realities of waste disposal in all schools, including information about job and career opportunities in this $70 billion sector of the U.S. economy.
  4. Reduce and recover organic materials via source reduction, edible food rescue, composting, and anaerobic digestion. Municipal organics (food discards, soiled paper, yard debris) are the single largest component of the waste stream: 35 to 50 percent of household-generated material. Unlike recyclable commodities, the end product, compost, tends to have readily available local markets and applications. Support a distributed and diverse infrastructure for organic materials recovery by prioritizing home and other locally based options over large-scale regional facilities. (See ILSR’s Hierarchy to Reduce Food Waste & Grow Community.) For every 10,000 households composting at home, between 1,400 and 5,000 tons per year could be diverted from curbside collection, with potential savings in avoided disposal costs alone ranging from $72,000 to $250,000. [11]
  5. Reduce the waste stream by 20 to 40 percent in a hurry. Meter garbage through unit pricing or pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) fees for household waste collection. PAYT results are proven to be quite dramatic: Doubling the recycling rate in one year, reducing overall waste by up to 40 percent. More than 10,000 towns and cities in the U.S. now use this system. Worcester, Mass., has used it since 1993, and has saved $10 million in avoided incineration costs.
  6. Clean up sloppy recycling. Recycle right through quality collection and quality processing to yield quality end-use markets. Consider reverting to dual stream. If not a conversion, scale the facility properly to focus on quality over quantity. Single stream, with public education, can operate with quality output, if conveyors are slowed to allow for quality control.
  7. Process materials (single stream or dual stream) in town, with proper scale and ownership arrangements. Reduce the carbon footprint and transportation costs, while generating jobs locally. Contract directly with end users and require reliable and transparent processing and marketing.
  8. Consider franchising as an option for commercial waste collection and recycling only if small and mid-sized companies are treated fairly, and if employee pay and working conditions are given proper consideration.
  9. Mandate waste reduction through local ordinances that ban single use food service packaging and other products through campaigns at the local and state level. U.S. food processors will green their packaging due to consumer pressure.
  10. Encourage state governments to tax packaging that is hard to reuse, recycle, or compost. This will end the laissez-faire approach to new plastic packaging and bring design under environmental standardization. We can’t recycle our way out of a plastic ocean and plastic world without changing wasteful distribution of non-recoverable packaging.
  11. Develop taxing mechanisms on waste through landfill and incineration surcharges. Use the generated tax funds to pay off municipal recycling bonds. Also, establish Recycling Investment Trust funds for investors to support local recycling economic development.



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Inst: Local Self-Reliance

Inst: Local Self-Reliance

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has a vision of thriving, diverse, equitable communities. To reach this, we build local power to fight corporate control