How curbside recycling works

Curbside service is the easiest way for consumers to recycle. They simply fill up and set out receptacles on a regular pickup schedule. Recycling becomes even easier when households can co-mingle the 12 common container and paper recyclables in one receptacle – a method known as single-stream recycling. Consumers can contact their local waste haulers and recyclers, public or private, to find out if they offer curbside service. Often, the best deal for those with private trash and curbside collection is an arrangement with one company that offers both services.

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Curbside accumulations rise significantly when a community offers single-stream recycling. For example, since Denver’s free single-stream system started in September 2005, recycled material collected in the city has skyrocketed about 40 percent.  

Materials accepted by Denver include aluminum, glass and steel containers, aluminum foil and pie tins, empty aerosol cans, plastic bottles, corrugated cardboard, brown paper (kraft) bags, paperboard (examples include cereal and soap boxes and paper towel rolls), newspaper, office paper, unwanted mail, phone books, magazines and catalogs. Moreover, Denver officials estimate that the average participating household could easily recycle 30 percent more of these items. –

The City of Thornton also provides single-stream curbside service for residents and so do major private haulers, such as Waste Management, in much of the metro areas they serve.

While single-stream recycling is limited by the availability of facilities that can economically process co-mingled recyclables, more and more of these sites are coming online. For instance, Alpine Waste & Recycling recently opened a plant in Denver that accepts co-mingled collections from any waste hauler or recycler that wants to offer single-stream service to customers – a big breakthrough that will expand curbside recycling throughout metro Denver. –

Other municipalities are considering a “pay-as-you-throw” system that charges consumers more for higher volumes of trash to eliminate trash disposal subsidies and to spur recycling. Loveland successfully operates a PAYT system. Many dropoff centers exist for residences without curbside access, including many apartments and multi-unit dwellings, or consumers who like to “hand-deliver” their recyclables. Various counties and cities, waste haulers/recyclers, businesses and retailers, community groups and charities, or a combination of the same offer these facilities.

Economist Bill Schroer is a writer and consultant who has been active in recycling public policy development and other new-source energy solutions for 35 years. Contact Bill at [email protected].