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by M.T. Snyder

Ever wonder why you can’t just throw anything recyclable into one bin? We have too. In many cities, including Medford and Somerville, users can dispose of all kinds of recyclable materials into one bin for collection. Here at Tufts, however, we have a dual-stream recycling program, which means that paper and cardboard are separated from glass, plastic, and cans.  This system is the standard for recycling programs throughout the US. However, the debate over whether to switch to a single-stream collection system has raged on.

single stream

Other universities have experimented with single-stream recycling, with mixed results. In 2010, the University of Colorado Boulder decided to switch from dual-stream to single-stream for a pilot recycling program.  They used just one bin to collect all recyclables in the residential halls, which was intended to increase participation in recycling due to the convenience of one bin and ease of collecting the recyclables. The test ran from August to May and was publicized to students through direct outreach.

Although the pilot program intended to make collecting recyclables easier, there were many other negative consequences that caused the university to switch back to dual-stream recycling after the school year.  One of the largest costs associated with the program was that contamination in the recycling bins increased significantly.  Increased amounts of trash were found in the recycling bin, and residue from food/beverage containers ruined the paper fibers in the bin.  Because of this, the recycled papers collected had reduced life cycles and were worth less when CU sold the materials.

The only place at Tufts where single-stream recycling exists is at the Dental School building on the Boston campus. Due to the mixed-use clinic, office, and classroom setting, TuftsRecycles! decided to test out a single-stream program there several years ago. While we’re still not convinced that this program could be scaled over the entire university, or even to the rest of the Boston campus, we still look to the Dental School program as a potential site for innovation and learning for recycling on campus.

For now, Tufts will remain a dual stream campus where paper materials are sorted out from other recyclables, unless our waste stream profiles begin to show that it would assist in attaining our annual 3% waste reduction goal. So keep putting paper in those lovely blue bins and know that you are helping Tufts get closer and closer to achieving “zero-waste.”

Further reading:

CU Boulder Single-Stream Recycling:

Tufts University Dental School Recycling: