Throwing empty soup cans and old newspapers into the same recycling container has vastly increased recycling rates throughout the Capital District, garbage collectors said.
Many companies have recently switched to single-stream recycling, saying it reduces the amount of trash they must haul away and saves them money on gasoline, since they don’t have to run three or four separate trucks to pick up paper, containers, electronics and trash separately.
The new system has become so common that some local dumps will actually sort the recycling on-site, saving collectors the cost of maintaining their own sorters.
In Schenectady, some residents objected to single-stream recycling, arguing that the mix would allow food particles on cans to contaminate paper products. They said separating items would create a better-quality recyclable. The system also generally requires large containers because people end up recycling so much, and City Council members balked at the cost of buying those for every resident. In the end, single-stream was shelved in Schenectady.
But in the surrounding suburbs, it’s a booming business.
Waste collectors said it’s true that single-stream creates a less-pristine recycled product.
But they only get the pristine product if people are willing to actually separate all of their recyclables — and most people can’t be bothered.
“A lot of times they ask us, do we make them sort it?” said Advantage Disposal co-owner Chris Stekeur, who operates in the suburbs.
He switched to single-stream recycling when gas prices skyrocketed. He couldn’t afford to run so many trucks without increasing his collection costs.
The switch saved far more than just gasoline.
“It has definitely increased the amount of recyclable material,” he said.
And customers love it.
“We give them a wheeled can that has a lid on it. With the old style of recycling bins, they would just be open to the nature and the wind. Customers didn’t like that, the wind blowing things around and animals knocking them over,” he said.
“But we did it to offset the cost, the fuel costs mainly.”
Others started recycling to save money on dumping fees.
Local landfills are currently accepting recycling for free. Workers there sort it, stack it on pallets and sell it to commodity traders. Trash, however, can only be dumped for a fee.
“We pay by weight,” said A Swift Rubbish Removal owner Frank Giaculli. “So we recycle metal and batteries and paper and anything we can. Oil. Computers. We’re not going to pay for 300, 400 pounds of National Geographic.”
His company empties out old barns, garages and other storage areas. For years his workers have swiftly collected all of the recyclables to save money on the dumping fee.
Others are in it for the environment.
Waste Management, a national company that runs several local haulers, set sustainability goals years ago to address concerns about the environment and limited landfill space.
Casella Waste Systems, which operates in Saratoga County, also switched to single-stream recycling out of environmental concerns.
“The world for the first time is confronting the problem of resource limitations. The Earth is not a bottomless well of resource,” said Vice President Joseph Fusco. “If we can use plastics to make more plastics instead of using fossil fuels, well ... ?”
While he acknowledged that single-stream slightly diminishes the quality of the recycled product, he said it’s worth it.
“You weigh that against the sheer amount of material you can keep out of landfills,” he said. “We have seen dramatic improvements. We have seen rates in some communities double in a matter of months.”
Single-stream works because it’s easy.
“You have to make it as easy to throw away as trash,” he said.
In his kitchen, he has a double-can, with recyclables tossed on one side and garbage on the other. He recycles so much that he only has the trash collector come by once a month — when his recycling can is full.
“You can quibble about the quality of the recycling. It isn’t as good, but that’s a quibble,” he said, “because you capture a lot more.”