Single Stream Recycling

Waste Management understands that a successful waste diversion program must be easy for consumers. That's why we are leading the way in implementing innovative solutions such as single stream recycling. Single stream recycling simply means all recyclable materials can be collected in a single bin. Instead of sorting recyclables into different containers, recyclable plastics, metals, glass and paper products can be mixed in a single recycling stream. The co-mingled material is then transported to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it is separated, compacted in bails, and marketed to end user manufacturers.

Single stream MRFs are comprised of an intricate progression of conveyer belts using both manual and automatic sorting processes. As the comingled recyclables pass through the MRF, a combination of hand sorting and mechanical components separate materials and remove any items that are not recyclable. Powerful air jets propel targeted materials off of the conveyor belt while vibrating screens filter recyclables from municipal solid waste. Magnetic rotors remove ferrous metals while optical sensors distinguish and sort materials based on color differences from visible light as well as other optical characteristics.

Waste Management promotes this method of waste diversion because it increases customer participation, expands the range of materials accepted, and cuts down on fuel consumption for collection routes. In many cases, single stream recycling offers businesses and municipalities considerable savings, as well as opportunities to participate in sustainable business practices.

It is essential to check with your provider for single stream recycling information, but the following lists indicate the typical standards.

In general, acceptable single steam recycling materials include:

• Newspaper (including inserts) • Paper bags
• Phone books • Aluminum cans (do not crush)
• Steel or tin cans • Empty aerosol cans
• Glass bottles and jars • Aluminum foil
• Pie tins • Detergent bottles (tide)
• Plastic milk jugs • Aseptic packaging (milk and orange juice cartons)
• Magazines, bulk or junk mail • Corrugated cardboard (flattened)
• Office paper • Chipboard (cereal / tissue boxes)
• Plastic bottles or tubs (#1 - #7)  



Unacceptable items include:

• Plastic bags • Shredded paper
• Styrofoam or paper to-go boxes or cups • Scrap metal
• Plastic microwave trays • Frozen food, ice cream or frozen juice containers
• Light bulbs, plates or vases • Drinking glasses, window glass
• Hazardous or bio-hazardous waste • Plastics other than those listed
• Tissues, paper towels, napkins • Waxed paper or waxed cardboard


Consumers can help reduce contamination of single stream recycling by:

• Washing off food waste from plastics, glass and metals

• Drying washed recyclables so they do not get cardboard and mixed paper wet

• Using recyclable garbage bags

• Removing plastic bags from newspapers

• Removing and discarding lids and pumps from bottles

• Avoiding contaminated products (check with your waste provider)

Waste is no longer something to get rid of - it's a resource. At Waste Management we are working to make recycling as easy as possible because we know the end benefits are tremendous. Last year, together we saved more than 41 million trees by recycling 3.5 million tons of paper and cardboard, and 5.6 million gallons of oil by recycling 623,000 tons of glass.

For more information, contact Waste Management Sustainability Services at 877-441-3046 or visit our website at

About the Author

Waste Management

Waste Management, Inc. is North America's leading provider of integrated environmental solutions. We partner with our customers and communities to manage and reduce waste from collection to disposal while recovering valuable resources and creating clean, renewable energy.

Our 45,000 employees are committed to Environmental Performance — our mission to maximize resource value, while minimizing environmental impact so that both our economy and our environment can thrive. Serving over 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers, Waste Management posted $12.52 billion of revenues in 2010.

Drawing on our resources and experience, we actively pursue projects and initiatives that benefit the waste industry, the communities we serve and the environment.

• Waste Management uses waste to create enough energy to power more than 1 million homes every year. By 2020, we expect to double that output, creating enough energy to power more than 2 million homes.

• As North America’s largest recycler, Waste Management managed more than 7 million tons of recyclable commodities in 2009. By the year 2020, we expect to increase the amount of material we manage to more than 20 million tons per year.

• By the end of 2009, Waste Management had 119 landfill-gas-to-energy projects producing 540 megawatts of power, the equivalent of powering approximately 400,000 homes.

• At the end of 2009, we had more than 800 natural gas-powered trucks in our fleet, with plans to add 200 more in 2010. During the year, we also used technology to reduce the fuel burn of every truck in our fleet. When fully implemented, this is expected to save 9 million gallons of fuel per year.

• Our wholly owned subsidiary Wheelabrator Technologies owns or operates 16 waste-to-energy plants and five independent power production facilities in the U.S. that generate enough energy to power more than 900,000 homes.

• Through a joint venture with the Linde Group, we have built a plant that converts landfill gas into liquefied natural gas for use as fuel in our trucks. The facility is currently producing 13,000 gallons per day.

• At the end of 2009, we had a total of 73 WHC-certified sites. We also set a goal to have 25,000 acres dedicated solely to nature preservation by 2020, and we have nearly reached that goal: at year-end, we had 24,000 protected acres.

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