Momentum Building, Dual Stream Recycling Communities

Recent momentum has seen a reversion to dual stream recycling in assorted communities across the United States.  This update provides detailed information on three towns in Long Island that have recently reverted to dual stream recycling. Additional reviews of dual stream efforts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida are also included.  A deeper dive on New Jersey dual stream reversion communities is further developing with more information to come!

 

Long Island, New York

Several towns in Long Island, New York have undergone shifts away from single stream recycling collection options.  Since November of 2018, the Long Island town of Brookhaven, population 500,000, has returned to dual – stream recycling efforts  after implementing single stream collections of number one though seven plastics from 2014 to 2018.  Presently, neither glass nor milk, juice or egg cartons are accepted for curbside collections as plastics number one, two and five are picked up with metals separately from paper and cardboard products on alternating Wednesdays.  In May 2021 Brookhaven’s Material Recycling Facility (MRF) was upgraded with equipment capable of new advanced sorting abilities, allowing for polypropylene plastic number five to be included in the town’s expanded residential recycling program. Of note, the facility investments were partially funded by a grant from The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition.

Zachary Sicardi, recycling coordination aide with Brookhaven’s Recycling & Sustainable Materials Management Department, noted:

  • Brookhaven’s current dual-stream tonnage decreased 43 percent and presently accounts for roughly 57 percent of what the jurisdiction’s single-stream tonnage was.
  • The removal of glass accounted for approximately 84 percent of the tonnage reduction while the remaining 16 percent reduction in tonnage collected was a combination of cartons and plastics number three, four, six and seven.
  • The need for increased and improved recycling education was established, as community apathy likely plays a role in this reduced recycling tonnage as well.

Nonetheless, the recycling products currently collected under the town’s dual stream program are much cleaner than the past single stream recyclables collected.  The rejection rate from the single stream collections averaged 15 percent, even peaking around 21 percent at times, while it presently hovers at 12 percent under dual stream.

Jim Bunchuck, Solid Waste Coordinator for the Northeast town of Southold, Long Island, population 25,000, confirmed that the town’s recycling tonnage collected has increased while costs have decreased, after the community switched from single stream recycling in 2016 to a three-stream recycling drop off system in 2018.  The town does not offer curbside pickup for trash or recyclables as residents either self-haul their waste to the local transfer station or pay a private hauler to transport curbside collections.  The need to color separate the city’s glass was further emphasized, understanding how broken glass shards can contaminate entire recycling loads coming from the jurisdiction.  Manufacturers are further unable to produce new glass products after receiving mixed color glass while the favorable deal Southold receives on their paper recyclables was then finally highlighted.  A third central Long Island town, Smithtown with a population of roughly 30,000, has similarly stopped including glass in its weekly residential recyclable collection services after returning to dual stream collections in January 2019.  Unsoiled newspaper, cardboard, magazines, copy paper and other paper recyclables are collected separately from commingled recyclable items including plastics number one and two, tin or aluminum and milk jugs.  Similarly, assorted communities both in the Northeast outside of the Long Island region and across the country, are further shifting to dual stream recycling services.

 

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

For instance, the city council in the town of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, population 45,000, has pushed for a switch to dual stream recycling since the waste operations in the city have been running a $1 million deficit since 2010.  Recently, Wilkes Barre finally switched with Dual stream recycling services beginning in May, 2021 as  the mayor expected reduced resulting tipping fees between 25-35 percent.  The city was bringing in a profit of $6,000-$8,000 a month when it first began single-stream recycling a decade ago. When international import policies disrupted the market, the city was spending upward of $50 per ton for haulers to accept its recyclables. Officials decided they had to reevaluate.  “We tried cleaning up our single-stream as much as possible… but we just never made any headway,” said Butch Frati, director of operations and deputy city administrator.

Wilkes-Barre began its dual-stream program last May, 2021 and is already spending a fraction of what it was before, Frati said, in part because it no longer gets charged to dispose of cardboard and paper. Even better, its tonnage actually increased once residents got used to the switch.  Department of Public Works employees designed a bi-weekly pickup schedule, crafted new delivery runs in addition to establishing the usage of bilingual outreach materials and warning stickers to help educate residents on the new programing.  “We’re beyond the challenges that a lot of people thought were going to be difficult switching from single to dual,” Frati said. “Our program is on its way.”

 

New Jersey

As further reported in the Franklin Reporter & Advocate, the Franklin New Jersey township was able to successfully expand the dual stream recycling program across seven new zones in March of 2021. Certain jurisdictions in Somerset County, overall population 350,000, returned to dual stream recycling collection services in 2018 while dual stream services expanded throughout the County in 2019 and 2020. A two 65-gallon wheeled recycling tote system is specifically being implemented both across Franklin Township and the County at large. One tote is used for co-mingled cardboard and paper fiber products while the other tote is used for glass, cans and plastics number one through seven. The county will not process Styrofoam, garbage cans, kitty litter containers, plastic bags or flower pots as part of their recycling program.

Melissa Harvey, Somerset County Recycling Coordinator, confirmed the two 65-gallon tote system will continue to be phased in for all County residents over the next three-to-five-year period. With profitability and end location varying, collected materials are spot marketed monthly with vendors varying by material. Specifically mentioned New Jersey based vendors who purchased the County’s materials included Bayshore Recycling in Keasby, Colgate Paper Stock Co., Inc in New Brunswick, KC International (Ekman Recycling) in Wall and Waste Management in Newark. Recycling Coordinator Harvey noted that certain residents of multi-family developments may not be able to receive the larger totes because of their size and would continue to use the smaller single stream blue recycling buckets. Recycling Superintendent John Kendzulak and Curbside Manager Rafael Jimenez are ultimately responsible for such decision making when expanding residential tote access.

 

Florida

Palm Beach County, Florida, population 1.5 million, got an unusual opportunity to see the changes that come with a dual-stream system when the city of Lake Worth Beach, population 35,000, decided to make the switch. Lake Worth, as it was named until 2019, was once a member of the county Solid Waste Authority’s (SWA) dual-stream system, but broke off in 2008 to pursue single-stream.  Ten years later the market had changed considerably. Waste Management, the city’s contracted waste hauler, had gone from paying $10 per ton to charging $85 per ton. The change would have cost the city almost $200,000 a year, according to officials, and they entered negotiations to revert to dual-stream with the SWA.  Christine Engle, the city’s recycling program director, said the SWA helped provide educational materials and logistical support for the switch back to a dual-stream program in 2018.

 

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Toby Harris

Toby Harris is a Baltimore based researcher with ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Initiative. They remain involved with SBCLT’s youth-led outreach and implementation efforts grounding Baltimore’s Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste. Toby has a Master’s in Environmental Health & Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Research on national recycling and reuse trends are also central to Toby’s works.