Single Stream (No-Sort) Recycling Goes Mainstream

by Owner on March 6, 2009

Starting April 1st, 2009, residents of Arlington, Virginia are in for a big treat. From that day forward, the County will stop requiring residents to separate recycled materials into various curbside piles or containers based on difficult-to-follow rules. Instead, residents will be able to put just about any recyclable material into a single bin that is then put on the curb for removal by the County. To roll out the change, the County is replacing every homeowner’s recycling bin with a new, much larger one with wheels that will be easy to take out to the curb.

This new trend bodes well for anyone tired of following the old rules. Here’s a sample of what Arlington residents have had to memorize in order to get their recycling done right:

  • metal cans and plastic bottles must be put into the small recycling bin without any kind of bag;
  • plastic bottles must have a narrow neck and may only have numbers 1 or 2 on the bottom (a tremendous waste of #3 to 7 plastics which the County asked to have taken to central recycling locations, which I suspect relatively few people did);
  • no plastic caps;
  • cereal boxes must be flattened and put into a paper bag along with newspapers, phone books, and magazines;
  • cardboard must be less than 3′x3′, flattened, and put next to the bin for pick up.

The rules may not be complicated to someone already “converted” to the environmental movement, but I can see people without previous recycling experience frowning at the rules’ complexity when I’ve done workshops for English as a Second Language students.

Single stream recycling does away with the confusion and will greatly encourage more people to recycle because of its newfound ease. Not only are these rules done away with, but Arlington will also now accept the following items in the new bin:

  • all plastics, #1-7;
  • caps, which may be kept on;
  • aerosol cans;
  • plastic bags;
  • rigid plastics such as containers;
  • aluminum foil and trays;
  • books.

Not only is single stream recycling more convenient, but it also paves the way to other future possibilities for encouraging recycling. For example, putting an RFID chip on each resident’s bin would allow a fast on-site weighing of recycled materials for each homeowner, which could then be put into a computer and used to calculate a dollar value for the materials each resident is providing. That dollar amount could then be used as a credit on the resident’s trash or other utility bill, providing even more incentive to recycle!

Single stream recycling is made possible by advances in sorting technologies available for use at recycling centers. They have become much more efficient at separating materials, eliminating the need for residents to do it themselves.

If your locality still forces you to go by old recycling rules, push your government officials to make the changes needed to support single stream recycling. It has become easier, more cost effective, and can seriously increase a locality’s progress towards its recycling goals.

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