What Is Commingled Recycling? How It Works and Recycling Tips

Learn about the recycling system that only requires one recycling bin and truck.

Commingled Recycling

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Commingled recycling, or single-stream recycling, is the system in which all plastic, metals, paper, and other recyclables are mixed into a single collection truck. This means residents do not need to sort these recyclables beforehand; they are sorted by when they arrive at a material recovery facility (MRF).

The simplicity of this system—just put all your recyclables in the same bin—makes it all the more attractive to residents. Still, commingled recycling is not without its drawbacks. In this article, we'll take a look at the process of this recycling system, some benefits and disadvantages, and how it compares to other forms of recycling.

How Commingled Recycling Works

Single-stream recycling began in the United States in the 1990s as a low-barrier entry into recycling; it was slowly adopted by communities across the country.

Commingled recycling programs vary between townships. Many accept recyclables in the following categories:

  • Plastic products (Townships may only accept plastics with specific resin identification codes.)
  • Newspapers
  • Paper and cardboard products (may include magazines, cereal boxes, clean egg cartons, etc.)
  • Glass products (may include clean food and drink bottles, jars, containers, etc.)
  • Metal products (may include clean aluminum foil, etc.)

Treehugger Tip

In order to determine if commingled recycling is available in your community, it is best to contact your local county or municipality. Additionally, check I Want To Be Recycled, which can help you determine how items can be recycled within your community.

After recyclables are collected, the truck then brings them to the floor of an MRF, where the sorting takes place. At many facilities, the materials are first placed on a conveyor belt where MRF staff remove all the non-recycling items by hand. All the items that can be recycled are then transferred onto a series of deck screens, which allows the heavier items to drop through to the bottom screens, leaving the lighter items, such as paper and cardboard, on the top screen.

The heavier items are placed under a magnet that removes all the metal. Workers will check to ensure no items are sorted into the wrong category. They then sort the items on the top screen into separate containers for paper, cardboard, and newsprint.

After all recyclable items are in the correct bins, they are shipped to their respective recycling facility to be processed into new materials.

Dual-Stream vs. Single-Stream Recycling

Whereas single-stream recycling involves putting all your recyclables into one bin, dual-stream recycling uses two separate bins. In most cases, plastic, glass, metal, and other materials go into one bin, while paper products are collected in another.

Dual-stream recycling requires a bit more work on the consumer's end, as they must sort their recyclables before collection. Though it may seem like a small task, this can deter people from recycling at all, or from doing so carefully and correctly.

Pros and Cons of Commingled Recycling

Is commingled recycling more efficient than dual-stream recycling? Like anything, there are both benefits and drawbacks.


The main benefit of commingled recycling is that it is relatively easy for consumers to participate in curbside recycling programs. Likewise, commingled recycling is also less costly for the consumer as they only have to purchase one recycling bin, and items are picked up by a single truck. As a result, this system receives greater public approval in many states, such as New Jersey.


The most significant disadvantage of commingled recycling is the increased risk of contamination among recyclables. Contaminated materials may include items that are not clean (such as used food or drink containers) or glass that has shattered on its way to a facility. Items that are contaminated either cannot be processed into a new recycled product, or the new product is of lesser quality.

Plus, contaminated recyclables are at risk of damaging MRF equipment, which can be costly for townships and facilities.

Commingled Recycling Tips

Recycling overall has its share of environmental drawbacks. Still, if you are participating in a commingled recycling program, you'll want to ensure you are doing your part so that your recycled items are properly processed. Here are our top tips:

  • Make sure any recyclable containers (whether glass, plastic, metal, etc.) are clean.
  • Check that every bottle and container is empty before placing it in the bin.
  • Read labels on any items that have further recycling guidelines.
  • Contact your township's recycling department with any specific questions on materials, recycling pick-up, etc.
View Article Sources
  1. "Single Stream Recycling." Container Recycling Institute.