Simpler recycling program will benefit collection companies, customers

By Briana Gerdeman


By the end of this year, Athens residents will be able to recycle more items with less hassle.

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission approved $1.5 million to switch Athens from dual-stream to single-stream recycling. The ACC Solid Waste Division will update the recycling facilities and add new processing equipment by the end of 2011.

“Single-stream, over the last four to five years in the state of Georgia, has made a resurgence,” said Suki Janssen, waste reduction administrator with the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department. “Just like fashion, recycling has its trends.”

A Solid Waste Task Force of 17 Athens citizens and two commissioners recommended in 2009 that Athens switch to single-stream recycling. Nationwide trends are shifting toward single-stream, especially on the East Coast and West Coast, said Lori Scozzafava, deputy executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America.

After the switch, Athens-Clarke County will also accept additional plastics for recycling – #4, #5, some #6, and #7 plastics. These include yogurt containers, margarine tubs and 6 pack rings. Athens already recycles #1 and #2 plastics, which make up 90 percent of plastics, Janssen said.

The difference between single-stream and dual-stream recycling lies in the number of containers used for collection. Dual-stream recycling requires that citizens separate different types of recyclables into two bins before collection, but in single-stream recycling, haulers collect all items together and separate them at the recycling center.

Single-stream recycling is cheaper and more efficient for companies who haul recyclables because they don’t have to sort the items in the truck like they do with dual-stream recycling. They can save on fuel, since they can pick up all recyclables at the same time, and in the case of Athens, they save a trip to Gwinnett County and back – the nearest single-stream recycler.

For customers, single-stream recycling offers simplicity.

“The biggest benefit for the customer, instead of having two bins, you have one roll cart that you can throw everything in,” said Jim Corley, director of the ACC Solid Waste Department. “The downside is more processing at the recycling facility.”

That’s because different types of recycling can contaminate each other, Janssen said. Broken glass dust contaminates paper pulp and damages recycling equipment, and food remnants that cling to cans or plastics can contaminate paper.

Helping the environment is usually not the reason for changing to single-stream, but because customers often recycle more and haulers often drive fewer miles or use more efficient trucks, it usually has some environmental benefits.

Because it makes recycling simpler, the switch to single-stream is expected to increase the amount of items recycled.

“What we’re finding is that because it becomes easier for people to participate, they collect up to 30 percent more materials,” Scozzafava said.

In Athens-Clarke County, where 14,752.19 tons of materials were recycled in fiscal year 2010, experts have slightly lower expectations. Janssen said the Solid Waste Department hopes to see a 20 percent increase in tonnage, and Corley predicted a 10 to 15 percent increase.

Recycling more materials sounds good, but sometimes it’s not all good. In a “Single Stream Recycling Best Practices Implementation Guide,” Susan Kinsella, executive director of Conservatree, a source of information on paper choices, and Richard Gertman, president of Environmental Planing Consultants, a meteorological and air pollution consulting company, wrote that contamination poses a serious challenge for single-stream recycling. Materials are poorly sorted and increasingly contaminated, which increases manufacturing costs and reduces the amount and types of products that can be made with the recycled material.

The switch to single-stream will require buying new roll carts for the ACC Solid Waste Department’s 10,000 customers, Corley said. The carts cost $40 each, as opposed to the 18-gallon bins now in use, which cost $6.

The department is applying for a Coke grant, which aims to promote recycling of bottles and cans, to pay for the wheeled carts, which encourage people to recycle more because they have more space and are easier to carry out to the curb.

They will find out in a few months whether they will receive the grant. If not, they have $150,000 set aside to buy the carts, but the process of switching to roll carts would be more gradual, Corley said. The department is also considering selling advertising on the sides of carts to pay for them.

The switch to single-stream may also result in changes in jobs. Some haulers may choose to use automated trucks, Janssen said, which would mean fewer jobs in recycling collection. But on the processing side, more sorting and new equipment may require more employees, Corley said.



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