Single Stream Recycling Massachusetts: How Did it Evolve?

By now, we can all agree that recycling is “good.”  Good for the planet, good for the local environment, even good for local economies that need recycling plants to process the recyclables.

But getting people to recycle in greater numbers took some time. Single Stream Recycling in Massachusetts is a good example of how simplifying the recycling process resulted in thousands of tons of trash being diverted away from landfills.

Single stream recycling in Massachusetts


Before today’s “Single Stream Recycling” technology, many communities would ask its residents not just to recycle, but also to sort their recyclables for easier processing.  Glass in one container, paper in another, plastic in a third, yard waste in a fourth, etc.

And while this helped recyclers and sanitation companies to deal with recyclables, many residents found the task confusing, complicated and, well, hard work.  While pre-sorting was well-intentioned, it resulted in people being significantly less willing to recycle.

Enter Single Stream Recycling (SSR), which is now the de facto choice for cities and towns across the country. With SSR a person can throw all recyclables into one container. No sorting, no multiple containers to maintain and drag out to the curb. It’s simple and it’s easy.

So easy that recycling rates increased dramatically. In 2008, Boston tested SSR and found that recycling rates increased by over 43%. That increase resulted in thousands of tons of trash being diverted away from landfills to be re-used by manufacturers.

Now, Single Stream Recycling has been embraced by dozens of cities and towns in Massachusetts, and thousands across the country.  And its popularity will continue to grow as SSR technology improves.

In our next post, we’ll talk about what happens to recycled materials, and how Single Stream recycling is actually sorted at the plant.