Single and Dual-Stream Recycling: Choosing Which is Right for Your Business

Certainly, waste separation is an important facet of waste management. Whether your business produces organic waste, plastics, fibers or other recyclable materials, there are proper ways to handle each material in order to optimize waste utilization and efficiency.

Single-stream and dual-stream commercial recycling are just two of the many proper channels for segregation of waste. Each of them has potential benefits for your company’s operations as well as the environment. In this article you’ll discover the differences between each method and learn which might be the best fit for your business.


Single-stream recycling is when all recyclable products go into one container, or stream. This includes cardboard, glass, plastic, metal and paper. All of these materials are tossed into one common can, where they are bundled together. They’re then picked up and deposited at a processing facility where they are sorted back into their individual material streams.


Many businesses prefer this method of recycling primarily due to its reduced collection costs and ease of implementation. It also encourages an increase in recycling volumes, as people are more likely to participate in a simple program with easy-to-follow rules.


Single-stream recycling often underperforms in terms of quality when compared to its counterpart, dual-stream recycling. This is because when certain materials get mixed together, they have the potential to contaminate the others. For example, broken glass and residual liquids from bottles can contaminate paper and cardboard. Since contaminated materials cannot be properly recycled, this results in ineffective resource utilization. Single-stream recycling is largely considered inferior from an environmental perspective.


Dual-stream recycling, or source separated recycling, focuses on keeping fiber components like paper or cardboard away from containers like metal, glass and plastic. Businesses that implement this method of commercial recycling will have two containers; one for metal, glass and plastic, and another for fibers.


This method results in far better resource utilization and allows the majority of recyclables to be processed optimally. Once these separated products are transferred to the processing facility, they have a greater potential to be recycled into more valuable materials than those that undergo single-stream recycling.

Dual-stream recycling keeps glass separate from other recyclable products. Glass is usually shattered by the time it reaches the processing facility, causing potential damage to machinery if mixed with other recyclables. Since dual-stream recycling ensures that glass is not mixed with fibers, it allows each product to be recycled optimally. Glass can be recycled back into new glass bottles, and paper can be recycled back into paper again, rather than glass being downgraded to make aggregate for road building, or paper into low-grade cardboard.


This method is more expensive and time-consuming for the businesses that utilize it. It cuts costs for the processing facilities, but increases collection costs because two trucks are needed to empty the different containers. Some businesses might consider the increased cost unnecessary when lower-cost single stream options are available.


Depending upon your waste management preferences and the size of your company, single- or dual-stream recycling can both be attractive options. If convenience is a priority to you, and you don’t have the funds to maintain a dual-stream recycling program, then single-stream might be the answer. Its simple one can method, together with lower setup costs can make your recycling efforts more attainable.

However, if you run your company with an emphasis on environmental stewardship and you can invest more in your program, dual-stream recycling might be a better fit for you. This method will allow you to reduce your business’s impact on the environment by optimizing your recycling efforts.

At National Waste Associates, we help clients determine the best recycling method for their needs. Talk with us about your locations, budget and sustainability goals today.

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