Challenge is using recycled items, not collecting them
What is lost in the praises of "single-stream" is that collection is not necessarily recycling ("Single-stream recycling shows growth," Catonsville-Arbutus Times, Feb. 1).
Recycling takes place when the collected materials are made into a product containing recycled content.
Many of those single-stream recyclables collected never make it to their next life. Paper ends up with the bottles and cans and domestic paper mills struggle with unwanted containers, particularly glass.
These misdirected recyclables are contaminants and, with the possible exception of aluminum, are disposed of rather than recycled.
A YouTube video that demonstrates the single-stream process shows glass going to the "glass breaker," which does exactly that.
Unfortunately, broken mixed glass (cullet) is down-cycled into less desirable uses, such as sandblasting base, roadbed aggregate and alternative daily cover for landfills.
Interestingly, I'm sure many well-meaning "recyclers" think their efforts result in this kind of glass going back into bottles and jars. But, in many instances, the glass ends up in the landfill anyway, albeit in smaller pieces.
Secondly, last month GreenBlue, a nonprofit that equips businesses with the science and resources to make products more sustainable, released "Closing the Loop: Road Map for Effective Material Value Recovery."
This report, based on three years of research in seven countries, explains that an efficient material recovery system that has the highest value for collected materials should include at least four bins: residual waste, organics and two recycling bins — one for glass and all other packaging or one for paper and all other packaging — that is, separating paper or glass from other recyclables.
China and other low wage countries are willing to purchase single-stream recyclables and pay for secondary sorting.
According to the United States International Trade Commission, Chinese imports of U.S. scrap surged 916 percent over the 2000-2008 period.
We are exporting raw materials that will be made into finished products and shipped back to us.
This does not support job growth in America nor does this reduce our reliance on virgin materials and the reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction of virgin materials — two of the primary reasons for recycling in the first place.
We need a consistent supply of high quality recyclables available, in order to develop a recycling manufacturing infrastructure that is part of the "green economy."
If we don't, "the easier recycling gets, the more likely the industry will collapse" to borrow from Jeffrey Davis of Greenwala.
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