According to 2014 data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. produced nearly 258 tons of solid waste, and about 34.6 percent of that waste was successfully recycled or composted. While there’s still progress to be made, that’s a huge jump from the 16 percent of solid waste that was recycled in 1990. Some attribute this increase, at least in part, to single-stream recycling programs. Learn more about how single-stream recycling works and the pros and cons of this method.

How Single-stream Recycling Works

A collection of blue curbside recycling bins

Single-stream recycling is a system in which recyclables are dumped into one bin for collection. After being collected in curbside bins, recyclables are brought to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), a combination warehouse-industrial plant where workers use large optical sorters and high-tech machines to scan and process tons of plastic, paper, glass, and metal for recycling every day.


The convenience of single-stream recycling can encourage more residents to join in the routine, thereby reducing the cost of collection, increasing automation of the MRFs, and serving communities with greater efficiency. In fact, research from the University of Wisconsin estimates that costs are reduced by 5 to 25 percent using the single-stream method. Since less space is required to store collection containers, there’s no need for separate pickups or haulers with different compartments for each type of material. This makes the process easier for both the community and the MRF.


Contamination or a decrease in the quality of materials can become a problem with so many diverse items being transported en masse—especially broken glass. However, with improving technology and the overwhelming convenience available to the community, these challenges are often outweighed by the benefits.

Founded more than a century ago, E.L. Harvey & Sons is a family-owned waste and recycling services company offering single-stream recycling services for commercial clients across the Westborough, MA area. In 2007, we built a state-of-the-art facility that quickly and effectively separates a range of different materials. Please call us at (508) 836-3000 or request our services online so we can help you.