While the debate around single-stream (or commingled) collection rages on, the number of single-stream systems continues to rise. (See the October/November cover story of this magazine at www.solidwastemag.com) In 1995, there were five material recovery facilities (MRFs) in the U.S. handling single-stream. By 2003, the number increased to 80 according to Jerry Powell (Resource Recycling, ASTSWMO Conference, July 23, 2003).
Canadian cities (e.g., Greater Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg) have also adopted single-stream systems, often to accommodate expanded and more integrated waste diversion schemes.
Most recycling industry representatives acknowledge that further implementation of single-stream recycling is inevitable since it brings increased collection efficiency and recovery. But they recognize it does not work in all situations. With concerns about decreasing paper quality, the paper industry has been particularly vocal about greater commingling, citing processing problems associated with glass, plastic and other products (i.e., contamination, product quality, safety issues, wear and tear on machinery, and downtime).
Generally, mills that manufacture lower-end packaging, construction and other products have found material from single-stream programs acceptable. Those producing higher-end printed paper, tissue and food packaging report it to be more problematic. (Read Susan Kinsella and Gerard Gleason’s Single Stream: An Investigation into the Interaction between Single Stream Recycling Collection Systems and Recycled Paper Manufacturing, March 2003.) However, Al Metauro of Metro Waste Paper Recovery in Toronto said in his January 2004 presentation to the Paper Recycling Association that quality is not the problem. He points out that maintaining quality requires higher cost, and that there are other limitations.
Despite the warnings, fibre prices have nonetheless been relatively stable and strong in recent years, largely a result of voracious demand from China. But given the continuing trend toward more single-stream systems, and the likelihood that China may tap new sources of fibre as its industry matures, it will be very important for the paper industry to work closely with the recycling industry to ensure the effective application of single-stream collection.
Contact Damian Bassett at 416-594-3457, ext 3457 or visit www.csr.org (CSR Sheet located under “Publications”)