To understand why Emmet County chose a dual-stream recycling system (separating recyclables into two different groups), let’s start with a look at the alternatives. We begin with what residents and businesses are asked to do with their recyclables under each kind of system:
This seemingly simple distinction has huge ramifications down the line in terms of cost to operate the recycling program, the quality of the resulting materials, and their value.
In general, in the waste and recycling industry there has been a huge movement away from source-separated systems, because they are inconvenient for residents and businesses and, where bins are divided to keep multiple materials separate, they don’t fill evenly which makes collection inefficient. Both dual-stream and single-stream systems are common, and there has been a push by private waste haulers to go to single-stream systems.
While performance of different recycling programs using similar systems varies greatly, in general it is agreed in the recycling and waste industry that the strengths and weaknesses of the four systems are as follows.
Materials collected in two “streams” stay cleaner, which is critical for most manufacturers.
All uses for a given recyclable material are not created equal. By producing clean dual-stream recyclables, Emmet County is able to market your recyclables for higher and better uses.
The following simplified hierarchy of highest and best use can be applied to any material:
Take office paper for example. A community could
If it is made into new office paper, after it is used (and hopefully reused) then discarded, it can be recycled again. If it is made into paper towels, then when it is used and discarded it can no longer be recycled into another paper product, but it could be composted. Or buried or burned.
Composting, burial, and burning clearly preclude the paper being recycled again. However, if composted, it can contribute to gardens, landscapes, or agriculture. When burned it may (if dry enough) produce some energy, but not nearly as much as would have been saved by recycling it. And burning it is polluting. Landfilled, it will eventually break down, producing methane and contributing to the greenhouse gases generated by landfills.
So recycling it for office paper is the highest and best recycling use, with recycling into paper towels second, and composting a distant third. But office paper contaminated with liquids, glass, and garbage cannot be recycled. It may not even be appropriate to compost.
By producing cleaner recyclables, dual stream allows us to supply more Michigan companies than single-stream systems can.
By producing clean recyclables which we can sell to Michigan companies, we keep more money and jobs in Michigan.
Cleaner feed stocks require less energy to prepare them for the final manufacturing processes. Also, by producing clean recyclables which we can sell to Michigan companies, our recycling program achieves greater energy savings than would be realized by hauling materials out of state.
Brokers and factories pay much more for cleaner materials, helping to fund the Recycling Center without tax dollars. We are also able to share the benefits with our partner counties (Cheboygan, Otsego and Presque Isle), with private waste haulers, and with businesses with particularly large volumes of a given material.
Proponents argue that single-stream increases participation in communities with weak recycling. Maybe. However here, you–and over 80% of your neighbors–are recycling huge quantities of high quality recyclables dual stream.
But even if the single-stream proponents were right about it increasing recycling, participation is NOT weak here! Emmet County residents are already huge recyclers: In areas of the county which don’t have curbside recycling, over 80% of households recycle. Participation is even higher in the curbside communities! You rock both the quantity and the quality!