Mojave Desert & Mountan Recycling Authority

How Curbside Recycling Works

Few environmental lessons have taken hold as strongly in the United States as the imperative to recycle. For some people, recycling serves as a proxy for sustainability; a full recycling bin excusing any number of wasteful practices. But recycling is not the be-all-end-all solution for our environmental woes. The American recycling system is facing some serious woes of its own.
If you haven’t looked at recycling beyond wheeling your cart out to the curb, here is an introduction to what happens after the truck picks it up.
Source-Separated or Single-Stream
Older readers will remember the early days of source-separated recycling when every material required its own bin, and even different colors of glass had to be separated. Households often had to drop off multiple containers at the recycling center on weekends. Even in communities that collected recycling at curbside, taking time to separate materials at home and maintaining numerous bins was an obstacle to recycling.

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;new advadsCfpAd( 339070 );Garbage collectors began to offer single-stream recycling in the ‘90s. Also referred to as “commingled,” “single-bin,” or “all-in-one recycling,” single-stream recycling allows households to toss all recyclables together in one bin. With the advent of single-stream recycling, recycling rates took off, but so did contamination rates. Even with higher prices and more contamination, single-stream recycling was an environmental win for about 20 years.
Materials recovery facility, or MRF. Image: Adobe Stock
The Recycling System
Like garbage disposal and large-scale composting, recycling is a big business that is usually conducted through government contracts. Recyclable materials are commodities, with prices that fluctuate according to market demand. Curbside recycling is picked up by large dump trucks and delivered to a materials recovery facility (MRF, or “murph”).
MRFs do not actually recycle materials, they sort them for recycling. They are essentially large sorting lines, where human laborers supplement a

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