High-performing Single-stream Recycling Systems Recover More Recyclable Materials than Mixed-waste Processing

An economic and policy study commissioned by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) and developed by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell shows that high-performing single-stream recycling systems recover more paper and other recyclable materials than mixed-waste facilities that combine wet and organic waste with dry recyclables.

Mixed-waste processing recovers much less mill-quality paper, but more metal and plastic, and requires 2.5 times the facility capital cost of single-stream recycling.

The full study is available at www.afandpa.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/final_mixed-waste-processing-economic-and-policy-study.pdf.

“Paper recovery is the economic foundation for many successful community recycling programs,” said AF&PA Executive Director of Recovered Fiber Brian Hawkinson. “Every situation is unique and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The size of a community, its recycling rate, goals for materials recovery, markets for recovered materials, landfill disposal costs and other factors all impact the economics of any recycling system.”

AF&PA conducted the study to help communities better understand whether mixed-waste processing could assist them with meeting their recycling goals. As the composition of the waste stream continues to change and communities’ interest in diversion evolves, seeking cost-effective options to increase overall recycling rates is a challenge.

Recognizing that multiple technical, economic and environmental questions exist concerning the feasibility of mixed-waste processing, the study focused on recovering recyclable materials from residential sources and assessed several scenarios comparing mixed-waste processing to single-stream recycling in a representative large U.S. city.

The U.S. paper and paperboard manufacturing industry relies on a continuing, expanding supply of mill-quality recovered paper fiber from community single-stream recycling systems for feedstock to manufacture new products. In a mixed-waste system, clean, dry recyclable paper is mixed with wet and organic waste, which increases the potential for contamination of the fiber and, thus, limits its availability and viability for reuse in manufacturing new paper and paperboard products.

The industry has set a goal to exceed 70 percent paper recovery by 2020 as part of its Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability initiative. Paper recovery for recycling helps extend the useful life of paper and paper-based packaging products, making it an integral part of the industry’s sustainability story.

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