Single-stream doesn't necessarily help the environment

February 03, 2010

Certainly anything that increases recycling is a good thing ("Recycling an idea for residents' convenience," Feb. 1). But what is getting lost in the praise of "single stream" is that "collection" is not recycling. Nor is processing.

Recycling takes place when the collected materials are made into a product containing recycled content. So what is the amount actually recycled -- the amount used in the making of a new product? Has anyone inquired as to the residue rate at the facility where single stream is processed? Does the increase in participation offset the loss of recyclables that end up on the wrong stream? For example, aluminum cans that end up with the paper and are shipped to a pulp mill are landfilled, not recycled.

Most domestic mills cannot use the paper collected from single stream -- it's too dirty. It increases their production costs due to downtime largely caused by the damage from glass that is imbedded in the paper, and the mills must pay more to obtain cleaner paper. It's also possible that mills currently using 100 percent secondary fiber may need to introduce some virgin pulp in order to maintain the quality of their finished product. How does that fit into this equation?

Moreover most, if not all, of the material collected through single-stream is being shipped overseas, where it is further sorted at a lower cost and used by the receiving country as the raw material in the production of their recycled content products -- which we then import.

One of Maryland's mills claims they have lost over 700 jobs because it is now cheaper to import the finished paper than it is for the domestic mill to produce it. Three months ago, International Paper announced it will close the Franklin, Va. plant, eliminating the need for 1,100 tons of paper collected in Maryland each month and 1,000 jobs in what is literally a "mill town."

By collecting recyclables in a way that increases the costs to our domestic mills we are not only exporting our recyclables -- our raw materials -- but our jobs as well. And while we can't halt this trend completely given the globalization of the world economy, we don't need to accelerate it when there are alternatives.

Valerie S. Androutsopoulos, Baltimore

The writer is a principal at Vangel Paper Inc.

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