Beginning in 2009, the city of Boston switched its municipal trash pickup services to a single-stream recycling system. Residents and businesses alike were given big blue recycling bins that could accept every last bit of recycling, from plastic bottles to cardboard boxes. It is a system that we have discussed previously with other cities, and for the most part it seems that many users of single-stream recycling applaud the ability to dump all of their recyclables into one bin.

But one writer at the Boston Globe has examined the results of Boston’s single-stream recycling and uncovered some sobering facts about the disposal process. When the garbage is hauled away from a customer, the mixed waste is taken to a large facility in Charlestown, north of Boston proper, where it is sorted by an army of waste management workers. Using hooks and other implements, they snatch out non-recyclable waste that inevitably ends up in the waste stream.

According to the Globe’s Barbara Moran, approximately 10% of all waste brought to  material processing facilities is thrown out. This is because the bulk of the waste is contaminated with food waste or is too small to even recycle. And once all of the salvageable bits are collected, such as aluminum, paper, and plastic, they are generally of poorer quality compared to separated recyclable deposits.

This leads to roughly 25% of recyclables collected through single-stream being land-filled or incinerated, instead of being processed into manufacturing goods. As Moran reports, the worst hit recyclables are glass which have a finicky recycling process. Since a lot of glass products shatter during transit between recovery facilities and recycling plants, they are incredibly hard to reprocess in bulk. A large portion of glass material is reduced to small fragments from being jostled around. Specks this small are only good for asphalt mixtures or landfill cover. Larger bits of glass can be melted down, but even then there is the problem of contamination. All of these problems leads to only 60% of recycled glass that can be used for making other highly valuable glass products, such as fiberglass.

Fortunately, the city of Boston has observed the current problems with single-stream recycling. The city council has put forward a ban on food-waste in recycling bins, as well as most trash containers in order to spur the creation of a composting infrastructure within the city limits. Similar composting measures have already been undertaken by surrounding communities, giving hope to advocates that the city’s waste problems can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Hopefully, the introduction of composting will allow the city to realize its green ideals.

Source via: The Boston Globe