Collection methods for recycling programs in Wisconsin have evolved over time. The earliest recycling programs collected only a few materials and everything needed to be separated at the point of discard. Over the years, more materials have been added to recycling lists, and some communities have been able to change how recycling is collected.

Single stream recycling

Single stream, co-mingled or mixed recycling is a method of recycling which allows paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal to be mixed together for pickup, that has been on the rise in Wisconsin programs, especially in larger cities.

Single stream recycling is easier, as everything goes into a single bin with no need for separation, so it often results in an increase in participation. Increased participation may also be the result of educational outreach and/or the use of larger recycling containers when a new single steam recycling program is introduced.

Participation, however, doesn’t directly correlate to more materials being recycled. Single stream recycling tends to see an increase in “wishcycling” — recycling of items we think are recyclable, but in fact are not.

Single stream recycling can reduce collection costs as it decreases the number of employees required to operate collection trucks, minimizes idling time at each stop, and lowers the risk of injury to haulers. Most single stream recycling is collected through the use of automated processes, including hydraulic cart lifts, which helps reduce the physical requirements of the work.

Processing the collected recyclables can be a bit pricey. They are taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted by machines, electric eyes, and human hands. The MRF process is far from perfect however, and has been described as “trying to unscramble a scrambled egg.”

Some of the single stream recyclables collected never make it to their next life. Paper ends up with the bottles and cans and the paper mills struggle with unwanted containers, particularly glass. These misdirected recyclables are then considered contaminants and are landfilled rather than recycled.

Dual stream recycling

Dual stream recycling means keeping the fiber component — paper and cardboard — separate from plastic, glass, and metal containers. Benefits of dual stream recycling include lower levels of contamination, more recovered materials of higher quality, and a lower cost to process the collected recyclables.

Duel stream recyclables are generally collected in smaller bins instead of carts. Therefore, a hauler must empty the containers by hand. The recyclables are then sent to a MRF for sorting.

Bottles and other containers need to be separated from one another before they can be sold for processing into new items. Sorting times are shorter and materials coming off of the production lines are cleaner – no glass with the paper, and all items properly sorted.

Source separated recycling

Source separated recycling is separating materials by type at the point of discard so they can be recycled. Many drop-off locations in Wisconsin still utilize source separation as their primary collection method, including Dunn County.

Source separated recycling does not rely on expensive sorting technology or automated processes for sorting. Other benefits include the lowest levels of contamination, highest quality and more recovered material.

Collection costs of source separated recycling tend to be higher due to an increase in potential injuries to haulers, and longer idling times at the curb (to get each type of material into separate chambers of the truck).

Dunn County recycling

Most of Dunn County continues to use source separation as its collection method because it is more cost effective in our area to do so and results in high quality recyclables. During economic downturns, when some communities have trouble selling their recovered materials, Dunn County’s recyclables have been able to hold their value, beating out the competition.

Source separation allows Dunn County to keep revenues local which benefits our economy. We’re also able to pass along the savings by offering some of lowest recycling costs in the state to our residents.

One final note, please keep an eye out for your 2018 Solid Waste Permits. The new permits will now be in the form of a small window sticker, and each household from participating municipalities will receive two permit stickers to make it more convenient for residents that use multiple vehicles when visiting the collection sites.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Amanda Haffele is the Dunn County Recycling Specialist. She can be reached at (715) 231-6538 or ahaffele@co.dunn.wi.us.

Outbrain