“Single stream dream” (8/4/10) ignored some considerable environmental and economic costs of a commingled recycling system for the City of Lansing. Mixing all recyclable items together into a single stream is easier for users to operate because they don’t separate materials; however, this type of system has drawbacks. These include decreased financial return for recycled materials due to contamination. Recycled materials fetch more money if the streams are pure, such as white paper separated from all other materials, including glass shards. I mention white paper because the material typically yields the highest financial return to keep recycling services afloat. During the mixing process of single stream recycling, it is difficult and costly to create pure streams, which can result in a low-grade material which is ultimately “downcycled”—that is made into a product of lesser quality— or the material may be overly contaminated to the point that landfilling is the economic option. Recycled materials can be “upcycled” into equal or higher grade products if pure, which is most financially advantageously done by the user at recycling station. Although the slight burden of separation may seem like a deterrent, a few moments allow recyclable materials to have a longer life and ultimately less resources extracted from the planet.
Another drawback is sorting costs. Increased sorting may yield more jobs, however if the City does not have funds to support its own material recovery facility (MRF) this can increase recycling costs by contracting with a third party. Additionally, if the City ships commingled recycling to Ann Arbor or another surrounding community, there are environmental costs of pollution from trucking and financial costs of shipment.
As a City of Lansing resident who enjoys the free recycling services as a way to keep waste out of the landfill, I hope the Lansing Public Service Department does not take this decision lightly.
— Lauren K. Olson, Lansing