Trends in Recycling Collection -
A Focus on Single Stream

Effects of Rapid Rise of Single Stream Recycling Vary by Sector:

Recycle Bin
  • Lower collection costs for haulers;
  • More convenience for residents;
  • Helps to meet higher recycling goals for everyone;
  • Increased expenses related to upgrading processing technology at recycling facilities;
  • Potential for increased residue at recycling processing facilities;
  • Potential for increased residue at paper mills and other manufacturing sites which use the recycled material;
  • Potential increases in operating and maintenance costs for paper mills (2004 American Forest & Paper Study).
There are several new hot trends in collecting residential recyclables. They include (1) using automated pick-up, (2) using larger recycling containers, and (3) collecting bottles, cans, and paper mixed together in a ‘single stream’. Will one or all of these options work in your community?
In many cases changing to a single stream system goes hand-in-hand with automated collection equipment, and larger (96 or 64 gallon) lidded containers on wheels. What all single stream systems have in common is that the recyclables are "fully commingled". This means that residents can put recyclable paper into the same collection bin or cart as recyclable bottles and cans.

Each collection method has its benefits. Automated pick-up results in lower collection costs for the hauler and fewer worker injuries and fewer workman compensation claims; larger recycling containers results in more material set-out for recycling and higher resident participation rates; single stream (collecting bottles, cans and paper mixed together) results in lower collection costs for the haulers and less separation effort and greater recycling participation rates for residents.

Implementing any or all of the collection options listed above, accompanied by increased educational outreach, expansion of the types of material collected for recycling, and the implementation of a SMART unit based pricing program may be a way to get Connecticut closer to the 60% disposal diversion goal by 2024.

There are many benefits and challenges to switch or change any recycling program. Switching to a new way of collecting materials requires forethought and planning to ensure residents understand how to prepare and provide materials at the curb or drop off facility. Haulers, sorters, processing facilities and end-markets, manufactures need to be part of the conversation too; not all companies will be able to accommodate the changes you wish to make, changing how you collect recyclables will change their business operation.

Is Single Stream Right for Your Community?

If you are looking to revamp or change your existing program, please consider all your options and decide which ones – alone or combined – will create the best program for your community to increase recycling recovery rates and to increase source reduction (i.e. not creating the waste to begin with).  Refer to the Single Stream Recycling FAQ webpage for more detailed information about the potential advantages, disadvantages, challenges and impacts of single stream on recycling participation rates and program costs.


Benefits and Challenges 

While there may be benefits to implementing single stream collection, local governments need to be aware of the issues when weighing the decision to migrate to this type of program.  This excerpt from Susan Kinsella and Richard Gertman's February 2007 publication "Single Stream Recycling Best Management Practices Manual" offers some good advice:
"Local governments cite many recycling benefits derived from switching to single stream collection, including multiplying the volume of recovered materials, boosting the diversion rate from the local landfill [or RRF], increasing recycling participation by residents and businesses, and reducing collection costs.  ...However, the introduction of single stream collection systems has not had such uniformly positive results for recycled product manufacturers.  ...Savings made through improved efficiencies in collection, such as those in single stream programs, must be invested in high quality processing that can meet a wide range of manufacturers' requirements."

"In order to ensure an optimally functioning whole recycling system, local governments must provide for recycling services that sustain all parts of the cycle, not just collection. Therefore, in the same way that local governments specify collection service requirements, they should also specify processing and marketing requirements, with input and feedback from the industries that will use the recovered resources in the manufacture of new products."

For more details on benefits and challenges, please see our Single Stream FAQ webpage.

Communities around the country are continuously evaluating and changing their recycling collection programs to implement new technologies, including single stream.  In FY2010, CT recycling facilities reported receiving residential single stream recyclables from 65 cities and towns.  The following is a sampling of single stream programs and pilots found in Connecticut and other states.

Single Stream Recycling Programs in Connecticut:

Bristol, CT - conducted a pilot with 900 households, biweekly collection of recyclables, combined with new automated curbside collection systemSingle Stream Truck

Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority, which serves 118 communities in Connecticut, has added a single stream sorting line at their facility in Hartford

Granby, CT – SMART program, combined with curbside single stream recycling program

Hartford, CT - implemented a one-year pilot in May 2008 which combines single stream recycle collection, additional acceptable materials and Recyclebank, a reward program to their curbside collection program

Manchester, CT – semi-automated curbside collection – recycling collection is bi-weekly, started July 1, 2009

New Haven, CT - semi-automated curbside collection - phasing in single stream recycling (larger recycling bin, smaller trash bin) – one city district at a time, starting July 2010

Newington, CT

Stamford, CT

Stonington, CT - SMART program, combined with curbside single stream recycling program

Torrington, CT

Single Stream Recycling Programs in Other States:

Arlington, VA - curbside collection includes electronic waste

Austin, TX – combined with pay-as-you-throw, starting October 2008

Baltimore, MD – expanded plastics to #1-#7 (only #1 & #2 before)

Boston, MA – after their pilot increasing barrel size, using clear bags, and adding automation, a single stream program was fully implemented July 2009.  Update:"Single in Beantown" - Boston has seen mixed results since moving to single stream collection (Recycling Today 4/21/10).

Delaware Solid Waste Authority - 64-gallon wheeled cart.  Brochure

Philadelphia, PA – no new bins, residents can use any type and as many bins as they’d like for their recyclables

San Francisco, CA – 3 cart system: single stream recycling, wet waste composting, garbage

Wilmington, DE – partners with RecycleBank 

Single Stream Resources

Understanding Economic and Environmental Impacts of Single-Stream Collection Systems,
Container Recycling Institute (CRI), December 2009

Downstream of Single Stream,  by the staff of Eureka Recycling, Article printed in Resource Recycling, November 2002

Single Stream: A Recycling Method That Cuts Both Ways, Steven R. Stein, Article printed in Resource Recycling, October 2004

Single Stream Recycling Best Practices Manual,
Susan Kinsella and Richard Gertman, February 2007

Single-Stream and Dual-Stream Recycling: Comparative Impacts of Commingled Recyclables Processing, Tim Goodman and Associates, January 2006

Single Stream Recycling Fact Sheet, Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center, University of Wisconsin Extension

Collection Costs, EPA, last updated August 2008

To Single Stream or Not to Single Stream? US EPA Meeting, July 19, 2007 (slide show)

Single Stream Versus Multi-stream Recycling, by Darlene Snow, MSW Management, September-October 2003

Making the Grade: The Development of Single-Stream Collection Programs Has Polarized Some Consumers and Processors, by Dan Sandoval, Recycling Today, October 2002

Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this web site to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.


Content Last Updated February 2020