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What are waste streams and why do they matter?

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This blog will cover the following with tools along the way to help you to decipher your streams:

  • What is a waste stream?
  • Questions to ask when determining the streams you’ll need
  • Custom streams for uncommon recyclables
  • A break down of the most common recycling types and their pros & cons
    • Co-mingled (Single Stream) recycling
    • Mixed (Dual Stream) Recycling
    • Source Separation Recycling
  • Too hard basket? One of our team would be happy to help you find the right solution for your business.
Streams 02

What is a waste stream?

Put simply, waste streams are the different bins you use to collect waste in your office. These are mostly determined by your waste provider, or whoever removes your waste. There are some common collection types that we’ll discuss below, but generally, as with most things in recycling, there is no one correct or best method.

Questions to ask when determining the streams you’ll need:

  • Do I understand the waste in my building?
  • What kind of materials does my business produce in significant quantities?
  • If you’re not sure, consider getting a waste audit completed using an external agency or using our DIY Waste Audit tool
  • What is the standard in my area? Or building/ facility?
    • Try our Solutions Finder to find standards across Australian States or contact your property manager or facility manager
  • Do I have the right Waste Provider for my needs?
    • What separation do they require?
    • Do they collect everything I need them to?
    • Can I get a better deal with another provider?
    • Can I reduce costs with increased waste separation?
    • Are there other fees I need to consider - landfill levies, frequency, contamination fees etc?
    • Learn more about how to select a waste provider here
  • How many bins/stations do I need? This depends on the size of the workspace and the number of people that work in it
  • What are your waste diversion goals/ targets?

Recycling is complex, and while finding the correct streams can be confusing, getting the infrastructure right is important to set your business and users up for success. A waste audit can be the best place to start, or get in touch with one of our team and they’d be happy to discuss your needs.

Custom streams for uncommon recyclables

We’re so accustomed to think of recycling in terms of plastic and paper we often forget other materials. If your business has a particularly large amount of waste or recyclables produced in one stream it’s a good opportunity to further reduce your impact by finding a second life for these materials.

A great example of this is the Australian National Maritime Museum, they had a waste audit completed that found their maps and guides account for a large portion of their overall recycling footprint. While recycling is important, reuse is always preferable where possible to reduce wear on the materials and the energy put into transport and remanufacturing.

So they organised to have custom, single grey bins located throughout the Museum with custom labels and a front vinyl to collect their brochures for reuse.

BINS 7499 cropped

Below is the standard waste streams Method currently has in New Zealand, we find these work seamlessly with the requirements of waste providers across New Zealand:

Steam Cards 2020 NZ

Co-mingled Recycling

Also known as Single Stream Recycling

Co-mingled recycling is the collection of all common recyclables together, often - paper, glass, plastic and metals.

Single stream recycling became popular as it was simple for users, thus increasing recycling rates and participation by users. Similarly reducing effort for cleaners on-site, fewer bins to empty, no need to keep recyclables separate and fewer bins taking up your office footprint.

The convenience at the beginning of the process comes at a cost, however:

  • It requires a greater manual and mechanical separation at the Material Recovery Facility
  • Contamination often increases as people throw materials in with less thought
  • The quality of the materials is reduced
  • Co-mingled Recycling often costs more than dual-stream recycling (explained below)

With single-stream recycling the materials damage each other and can cause a multitude of issues. Glass can smash and embed itself into paper which can damage the materials and recycling machines if it makes it that far. Also, food or liquid waste from bottles can contaminate paper making it no longer recyclable.

The quality of materials wasn’t in the spotlight when we were sending much of our recycling offshore. However, with the China ban countries have had to look at how to make onshore recycling effective and profitable.

Are you collecting your materials co-mingled? It’s a good idea to check with your waste provider to understand where these materials are going and what portion is being recycled.

Mixed Recycling

Also known as Dual Stream Recycling

Dual Stream Recycling is taking it one step further than Co-mingled recycling and separating one of the more problematic materials to reduce material damage and contamination.

As we predominantly work with workplaces we separate the paper into its own bin, leaving glass, plastic and metals together as our standard. This is most practical as paper often accounts for the largest portion of office recyclables and is the material that is most likely to be damaged by other recyclables.

Separating just one of the materials can improve material quality, thus the life of the resource and the commodity price.

Source Seperation

Finally, source separation, which means having separate bins for most of the different materials being discarded in your workplace.

As we know, separating waste/recycling into individual bins reduces the likelihood of contamination and helps to maintain the quality of the recyclables. This can extend the life of the materials beyond this round of recycling. For example, as paper is fibrous each time it gets wet the fibres break down reducing the number of times the materials can be used.

Source separation requires a little more manpower, taking a large amount of the work involved in organising recyclables at the consumer level; so less sorting is required at the Material Recovery Facility.

Contaminated recycling can have a number of outcomes, from the whole bag being sent to landfill, damaging equipment or simply being pulled out during sorting, or additional fees if it's over a set point often 10%. You can read our article on contamination here.

Ready to sort your recycling?

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