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June 27th, 2008
Single Stream Recycling – what are the facts?

In the brief history of city-wide recycling programs, most programs used source separation, which required residents to sort materials before putting their green or blue recycling bin on the curb alongside the trash can for pick-up or dropping it off at some place like Green Guy Recycling. That might soon change though with the idea of single stream recycling being considered by the San Marcos City Council.

Single stream recycling (SSR) lets people place all of their materials into one container without having to separate anything. Residents would get a single large container to place on their curb and the actual sorting would be done at a central location.

SSR in San Marcos will add materials that can be recycled through automated curbside collection. Currently only plastic resins #1 and #2 can be put in the bin, but, if implemented, the city will accept more. Green Guy currently accepts all plastic resins (1-7) but only in bottle form. Also, additional fiber products will be accepted, such as cardboard and junk mail.

Green Guy Recycling owner Kyle Hahn, the local recycling guru, said, “If you look at a graph of what composes a landfill, cardboard and other fibers are a large part.”

The idea is not without its respective pros and cons, though. Advocates of single stream point out that the ease of use will lead to greater community involvement. In a recent open letter to Mayor Susan Narvaiz and the council, Sustainable San Marcos, a local non-profit organization that seeks to promote local green policies, says, “More types of materials will be accepted, and no sorting is required. SSR will also decrease the volume of waste stored in garbage carts. As we move to once-a-week garbage collection, this gives people the equivalent of another (smaller) cart.”

Also, Sustainable San Marcos points out that elderly and disabled citizens will benefit from the use of larger wheeled containers instead of the traditional blue and green crates. Other benefits mentioned are less pollution by trucks, both through noise and emissions, and more available space in landfills.

However, a 2003 study conducted by Conservatree, a non-profit organization that seeks to convert paper markets to environmentally friendly paper, points out some flaws in SSR. For example, the report states, “Most paper manufacturers say that the quality of the fiber materials they’re getting from single stream systems is problematic, requiring landfilling of tons of plastic, glass, and aluminum cans from each mill every day.”

Furthermore, a report created by Tim Goodman & Associates for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on switching from dual stream recycling to SSR says that other problems are, “Greater levels of contamination of materials when they are mixed together including glass breakage and the contamination of paper and plastic with broken glass… An increase in residuals generated at [material recovery facilities] due to the larger amounts of contaminated materials and non-recyclable broken glass, and increased costs for processing as a result of the required investment in more sophisticated separation equipment.”

Many cities see SSR as the wave of the future though. Austin has already adopted the program and plans to implement it in October of this year. Other cities that have chosen SSR include Baltimore, Denver, Philadelphia, Albuquerque, Lexington, Ky., and Napa, Ca. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor in December 2005, Madison, Wis., saw a 25 percent increase in recycling by citizens with 8,100 more tons of materials being collected per week after implementing SSR.

Integrating a recycling system can boost the local economy by creating jobs. An estimated 28,000 jobs are linked to recycling in the St. Louis, Mo., area alone. A consistent recycling climate renews the economic benefit of a marketable product returning to a shelf in a store. Similarly, recycling provides marketable goods to recyclable end markets to offer future products made from recycled material, which translates into lower prices for consumers because of reduced packaging costs.

Hahn thinks SSR and Green Guy’s services will be complementary to each other. For example, Green Guy accepts several recyclable items that cannot be picked up in curbside recycling and will not be included in the new list for SSR: car batteries, tires, scrap metals, aluminum foil, petroleum products, rechargeable batteries and Freon recovery, to name a few.

Collection timing is another issue. Currently San Marcos has weekly pick-up, but with the implementation of SSR, collection will be curbed to every other week.

“Imagine if you have too much to fit in your new bin, or that you forget to put the bin out on your collection day. People will either throw that stuff in the trash or bring it to Green Guy,” Hahn said, adding that the majority of Green Guy’s business is from locations where curbside recycling is not in place.

The city council will consider this issue at their July 15th meeting at 7 PM at city hall. All citizens are invited to attend. You can also see a segment on SSR through the Newstreamz video update at


  1.  – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) of (PET): soft beverage bottles, mouthwash bottles, peanut butter and salad dressing containers, ovenable film and ovenable prepared food trays.
  2. – High Density Polyethylene (HDPE): milk juge, juice containers, trash and retail bags, liquid detergent bottles, yogurt and butter tubs and cereal box liners.
  3. – Vinyl (Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC): clear food packaging, shampoo bottles, medical tubing, wire and cable insulation
  4.  – Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE): bread bags, frozen food bags and squeezable bottles (e.g. mustard, honey)
  5.  – Polypropylene (PP): ketchup bottles, yogurt and butter tubs, medicine bottles
  6. – Polystyrene (PS): compact disc jackets, aspirin bottles, cups, plates
  7. – Other: Use of this resin code indicates that the package in question is made either of a resin other than the previous six, or is a combination of resins. Examples of this are three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, some citrus juice and ketchup bottles and clear baby food containers.


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3 thoughts on “Single Stream Recycling – what are the facts?

  1. Fast Food! Drift Net Fishing!Incineration!Take a pill to lose weight!Instant everything and now Single Stream collection, the biggest scam in recycling, can be added to the long list of moronicrediculous ideas that have come down the pipe since doctors used to recomend smoking mild cigarettes. There are no short cuts in life. Why would anyone with a brain think that contaminating a few recyclables together and then export the concentrated mess to Asia to be sorted is a good idea? Ya wanna learn about the value of recycling, ask your grandmother or great grandmother! Single Stream is not recycling. It’s cheap collection. Real recycling maintaines the value of the materials discarded. Geez, lets mix everything together and smash it all and hope for the best. Bizarre. In typical North American fashion, systems are designed to help get the lazy and ignorant to participate. Anyone remeber Love Cannal? Convenience is what will probably destroy human civilization. When will we ever learn? Anyone got a smoke?

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