Changing markets and confusion over what can be thrown in recycling bins has forced some communities to rethink or even suspend their recycling programs. But many more recycling programs are working well, experts say.
The difference is partly based on which methods are being used for collection and processing.
Are you sorting paper from plastic at the start, for instance, or tossing it all in one bin? Are you certain the items going into the bin are the ones your recycler can accept? How up to date is the processing facility in your area?
“Some programs are hurting and need to adjust, particularly in the residential stream. But the majority of programs are working successfully and continuing to grow,” says Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. The non-profit trade association represents more than 1,300 companies that make, process, sell or consume scrap commodities, including metals, paper, electronics, plastics, glass and textiles.
Success or failure seems partly linked to whether recyclables are going into one mixed curbside bin for pickup (single-stream recycling) or is divided by residents into separate bins (multi-stream recycling).
Single-stream was adopted by many communities and companies because it costs less to haul. But creating one big pool of recyclables creates more difficulty later, when they must be sorted out. In addition, experts say people tend to be sloppier about what they put in a single, combined bin. That produces a lower grade end product.
Multi-stream tends to produce a less-contaminated, thus more valuable, end product.