How does single-stream recycling work?

Anecdotal evidence thus far has revealed two things about the transition to single-stream recycling in Athens: people don’t know that it happened or what single-stream recycling is.

Athens County residents and Ohio University students no longer need to sort their recyclables before they place them on the curb. An over $4 million renovation of the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, or AHRC, has made it easier for residents to recycle, and therefore easier to process. The renovations, which began last July, included purchasing land and a building to hold the new materials recovery facility, MRF for short, in The Plains. The MRF is a massive machine, equipped to process and sort mixed, or single-stream, recycling.

The old recycling facility, on Ohio Rt. 13 in Chauncey, could only handle around 10 tons of recyclables each week, sorted by hand by about six workers. The new facility employs around 15 people and processes over 20 tons of material daily, according to Bruce Underwood, Executive Director at AHRC. The new facility has seen a dramatic increase in recycling in 2016, due in part to the facility’s increased capacity, as well as expanding coverage areas throughout Athens and Hocking Counties and the ability to process even more types of plastic.

In 2013, 240 out of 570 recycling facilities in the US had single-stream operations, said Eileen Berenyi of the solid waste research and consulting firm Governmental Advisory Associates.

If homeowners don’t have to sort through their garbage, who or what does?

The infographic below outlines the steps in the sorting process. Most of it is mechanized, with little human interaction. Materials move along a belt, sorted by either machines or workers along the way. Although the upfront cost for the facility is enormous, experts agree it is definitely more cost effective in the long run.

by Trista Thurston (View larger on Piktochart)
by Trista Thurston (View larger on Piktochart)


Popular Science explains the process step by step in more detail, with a diagram of an example system.

Workers in a single-stream recycling facility in Hazelwood, Missouri are shown sorting through incoming materials in the above video. The optical laser that separates different variants of plastic is shown below.

Both videos by Emanuele Berry of St. Louis Public Radio

And if you want to see how Athens specifically processes recycling, this video tours the facility.

Do you have any thoughts on recycling in Athens? Use the hashtag #ATNUnearthed, tweet at @ATNUnearthed or comment below to chime in.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);

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Trista Thurston
Senior journalism student Trista Thurston is currently scrambling to prepare for graduation. When she's not thinking about the future and freaking out, she can be found managing AVW Productions and Tiffin Hall.

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