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Making the grade: the development of single-stream collection programs has polarized some consumers and processors. (2002 Paper Recycling Supplement).

The use of single-stream recycling programs has caught on in a big way. While this method has enabled more companies and communities to reduce collection costs, concerns about the impact this trend has on the material being sourced, processed and used is growing. Is the cost savings coming at the detriment of a sharply lower quality material?

One of the biggest concerns continues to be the contamination of many grades of recovered paper with glass shards.

During a presentation at WasteExpo, held earlier this year in Las Vegas, George Elder, vice president of material management for SP Newsprint, Atlanta, said that increased use of material from single-stream collection programs could cause significant damage to the equipment at a paper mill.

Johnny Gold, chairman of the American Forest and Paper Association's (AF&PA) Paper Recycling Group, and vice president of the Newark Group, says that the use of single-stream collected material is his biggest concern right now.

Stressing this point, Gold points out that the growth in single-stream collection "is the number one thing that our company is involved with."

Gold adds that the overall opinion that single-stream is growing in interest and usage by communities and recyclers is of great concern to him. "It is bad, bad, bad," he stresses. He cites the significant decline in quality standards of material collected and sorted through a single-stream system.


While not addressing what occurs at other mills, Gold says that at Newark's mills the quality issue arising from material collected and processed through single-stream methods is a burgeoning problem. Gold notes that his company is one of the largest consumers of residentially collected recovered paper in the country.

While Gold speaks most directly about the problems that The Newark Group is having with single-source collected material, he adds that the AF&PA, the national association of paper companies, recently commissioned the R.W. Beck consulting group to conduct a study and to prepare a report on the impact that single-stream collection is having on mills.

Jonathon Burgiel, project director for R.W. Beck's study (slated to be complete this month) says that the consulting group has been working on the project for the past six months. The goal of the study is to evaluate the quality coming out of the single stream. "The study will look at the issue objectively," Burgiel says.

How large in the issue? That is one of the hardest numbers to pin down, all say. For one, there seems to be a difference of opinion on what is considered a single stream operation. Depending on the "expert," there are anywhere from a low estimate of less than 100 single stream collection programs to some who say that as many as 300 single-stream programs are presently operating in the United States.

While the number maybe small in comparison to the overall number of collection programs in the U.S., more processors are considering this collection method.

Michael Benedetto, president of Tidewater Fibre Corp., Chesapeake, Va., was one of the proponents of single stream collection at the most recent Waste Expo show. He says his company was one of the first in his part of the country to embrace the use of single-stream collection, and he believes that overall it is a trend that will continue to blossom,

According to Benedetto, one of the biggest advantages to the single-stream method is the ability to capture more recyclables from the waste stream. As more states, especially on the West Coast, mandate increased recovery levels, they turn to single-stream collection.

While Benedetto feels single stream collection is a definite trend, he readily admits that quality is an issue for paper mills. While he says that his company is in constant communication with mills ensuring that quality specifications are attained, one of the biggest bugaboos continues to be broken glass inadvertently mixed with bales of paper.

One step to curb this contaminant would be the elimination of glass from the collection stream, Benedetto says.

Additionally, as recyclers and cities embrace single-stream collection, more mills are adding equipment, such as drum pulpers, that are better able to handle the wider range of material shipped.

While proponents of single-stream collection cite the cost savings, Gold is more skeptical about the reasons for the increased attention paid to this method of collection. Also, while some advocates say the cost savings make single stream more viable, Gold contests this statement. To switch from a multi-stream collection to a single-stream method costs a significant amount of money. "The only one saving money is the hauler," Gold states, adding, "The big proponent of single stream is Waste Management (Inc.)."

Benedetto agrees that moving from a multi-stream method to single stream will initially cost more. However, it is a move that his company has made and will likely continue as cities face tighter budgets and increased pressure to boost collection levels.


Pieter Eenkema van Dijk, president of Van Dyk Baler, a distributor of Bollegraaf and Lubo equipment, says his company sees great interest in installing equipment to handle and process recyclables through a single-stream method.

According to van Dijk, through a single stream collection method there is a 20 percent to 25 percent increase in collection. On the downside, he acknowledges that residue levels increase.

Despite this, he sees greater movement toward this collection and processing method. Van Dyk Baler has installed single-stream systems at 29 plants. Of those, around 90 percent are full Bollegraaf systems.

Addressing concerns about the quality of the material being generated at single-stream plants, van Dijk says that the processing method "is not a black box." What consumers must do is differentiate between the different types of processing equipment. Not all systems are the same.

With Van Dyk's systems, one of the biggest advantages is the effective screening system that extracts many of the contaminants that concern mills.

"Lubo screens can go up 10 degrees, which works to remove much of the glass shards in a single stream processing line. Screening is essential," van Dijk notes.

Van Dijk notes that one of the most popular single-stream systems is a double deck screening system. The most popular system produces No. 8 news upfront automatically with the Lubo Starscreen. After this screen, mixed fiber is automatically separated from bottles and cans by the Lubo Single Stream separator screen. Sorting of plastics and glass by color is done by hand. Different systems are available for different capacities. The key in the Bollegraaf Single Stream System is the speed of processing, the quality of end products and low labor requirements.

While installing a variety of disk screens and other more sophisticated sortation equipment can help improve the quality level, some advocates feel that some more obvious steps would help improve the quality of the material. One recycler said that extending the sort line would allow for more sorting, further reducing the level of contaminants. Extending the line, however, could bump into space limitations at a recycling plant, creating additional headaches.

Another company that has successfully operated some single-stream sorting operations says that slowing down the conveyor line also would create a much cleaner pack.

John Pausma, with Homewood Disposal, a waste management and recycling company located in the Chicago area, notes that moving toward single-stream collection is a step toward making recycling financially feasible. Further, he echoes other advocates who say a key part of having a successful single-stream collection program is by ensuring that improved sorting equipment is added at the plant to make sure the sorted material meets the quality specifications.


While a number of companies initially expressed reservations about using the No. 8 de-inked news that Homewood processed through its single-stream collection system, Pausma lists many of the largest ONP consuming mills in the Midwest as customers, saying that "We have no problem with the quality."

This, he readily admits, follows "a great deal of skepticism by the mills." However, he says that once many of these mills have a chance to look at the sorting system set up, they are then happy with the material they are taking in.

Van Dijk echoes this statement. Before making an assumption on whether to accept or reject a load because it is processed through a single-stream method, "The mill has to look at what kind of separation technology the facility is using."

While Pausma and other advocates of the single-stream sorting approach preach of its successes, they stress that spending the time, money and effort to ensure that the material that comes down the conveyor line is properly sorted is key. "It's not easy," Pausma says. "You need handson management. If you don't have an adequate `post sort,' you are left with a poorer quality. While glass is one of the biggest concerns for paper mills, other materials do end up in the mix. While perhaps not as damaging as glass, some plastics may cause damage to the paper-making system.

However, another Midwestern recycler says that despite operating a single-stream collection program for more than two years, the company has not had one rejection of its loads.

Brian Jongetjes, president of John's Disposal, a waste management and recycling firm located in Whitewater, Wis., says that the quality of the material his company is collecting through its single stream has been fairly good. While collecting the material all together could be problematic, Jongetjes says that a key with this method is the ability to conduct much more thorough sorts at the processing plant.

Fans of the single-stream method also note that while in the short term there may be a decline in the quality of the loads being sorted, the resulting increase in tonnage could help curb some concerns that paper companies have expressed over potential shortages that have resulted in price spikes over the past several years.

Along with remedying the possibility of shortages of recovered fiber, several advocates of the single-stream method say that consumers will make adjustments with their equipment to allow them to handle a much wider variable of materials without the damage that often is sustained with fiber generated through the single stream method.

While many advocates say that the quality of the material meets the standards required by mills, one processor who requested anonymity said that despite the quality of the material, "We definitely don't want to tell them (paper mills) the material we are shipping is from a single stream."

However, he did note that while at the present time the material in a dual sort is cleaner, the quality of the fiber is improving every year.

Van Dijk says that the material processed through the system his company is installing "is very, very clean. However, that doesn't mean everyone can do it."


One issue that appears to be the end game for many proponents of the single-stream method is the ability to move toward a totally automated collection system. While many recycling programs presently operate with two or three employees, with an automated system that collects recyclables through a single-stream method the costs to the processor will drop significantly. Labor costs, which typically make up a significant portion of a company's expense, would be cut significantly.

This motive, says Gold, is why the single-stream collection method is being pushed so hard by the waste management firms that had been slower to embrace the recycling culture. These savings do not necessarily translate into cost savings for the community being served.

Additionally, many OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) watchers feel the government agency is pushing waste and recycling haulers toward mechanical lifting and tipping of bins and away from manual repetitive lifting methods.

Detractors still have reasons to question the wisdom of the single-stream shift, but for now the momentum appears to be on the side of those advocating the collection and processing method.


Read the remarks of SP Newsprint CEO Dr. James Burke regarding the quality issues with single-stream material in an online sidebar at

The author is Internet editor and senior editor of Recycling Today. He can be contacted at
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Comment:Making the grade: the development of single-stream collection programs has polarized some consumers and processors. (2002 Paper Recycling Supplement).
Author:Sandoval, Dan
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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