Extended Producer Responsibility: A Primer

By Pat Franklin
Executive Director
Container Recycling Institute

Presented on November 18, 1997, at the Take it Back! '97 Producer Responsibility Forum

"The responsibility, that the waste generated during the production processes could be taken care of in a proper way, from an environmental and resource-saving point of view, should primarily be of the manufacturer. Before the manufacturing of a product is commenced it should be known how the waste which is a result of the production process should be treated, as well as how the product should be taken care of when discarded.



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Bottled Water

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Americans buy an estimated 42.6 billion single-serving (1 liter or less) plastic water bottles each year. Almost eight out of ten end up in a landfill or incinerator. Hundreds of millions end up as litter on roads and beaches or in streams and other waterways. Taxpayers pay hundreds millions of dollars each year in disposal and litter cleanup costs.

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Bottle Bills

The Container Recycling Institute is one of the country's foremost advocates of beverage container deposit legislation (commonly known as bottle bills). Beverage containers make up a large portion of litter in the United States, and deposit laws are known for achieving a high recycling rate for beverage containers and reducing litter where other recycling systems have failed. Did you know that states with bottle bills have a beverage container recycling rate of around 60%, while non-deposit states only reach about 24%?

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Recycling and Jobs

Five Facts About Beverage Container Recycling and Jobs

CRI Jobs Report
    1. Depending on the system, container deposit-return (CDR) systems create 11 to 38 times more jobs than curbside recycling.

    1. On average, states with deposit-return systems recover roughly three times more beverage containers than non-CDR states.

    1. Jobs gained from recycling far exceed any jobs lost in virgin extraction, landfilling or domestic manufacturing.

    1. U.S. PET reclaimers currently operate at less than 60% capacity due to a lack of quality source materials.

    1. The U.S. loses 800 jobs per year to overseas markets due to the export of PET.



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Single Stream Recycling

What is single-stream recycling?

Single-stream recycling is a system in which all recyclables, including newspaper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, junk mail, etc., are placed in a single bin or cart for recycling. These recyclables are collected by a single truck and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) to be sorted into various commodity streams for sale to markets, where it is processed into feedstock which can be used in the manufacture of new products.

From the City of Ann Arbor

Video: See a MRF in action

Under the single stream system, residents combine paper and containers in a single bin or bag.  The bins or bags are collected and placed in a truck.  When the bins or bags arrive at the MRF, the recyclables are sorted.  The impetus for adopting single-stream was twofold: a belief that the added convenience of not needing to sort would entice more residents to participate in their curbside programs, and the desire to save money by reduced collection costs.  While collections costs are lower with a single stream system, processing costs are much higher.

Other collection systems

Single stream recycling was introduced in the late 1990s as a lower-cost alternative to "dual stream" collection: the predominant method of curbside recycling at the time ("source-separation," where each material type is kept in a separate bag or bin, and trucks have three or more compartments, was the predominant method of collection in the late 1980's, but had all but been abandoned in the U.S. by the mid 1990's).

A recycling cart with examples of single-stream recyclable materials in it.Under the dual stream system, residents usually combine all their food and beverage containers (aluminum and steel cans, glass jars and bottles, and some or all plastic bottles) in one bin, and they put their newspapers and/or mixed paper (such as junk mail, cereal boxes, and home office paper) in another bin, or in a brown paper grocery bag.  The two material streams are picked up and placed in separate compartments on the recycling truck, and taken to a processing center (a materials recovery facility, or MRF).  The fiber is sent to market with little or no processing, and the containers go through a variety of automated sorting equipment and hand-picking before being baled or containerized and sent to market.

There are also hybrid co-mingled systems where plastic and metal, and sometimes paper, is combined, but glass is kept separate.


Material Quality

There is significant evidence that the resulting scrap material quality (and hence the revenue) is lower under single-stream collection than it is under a dual stream system or under systems like container deposits, where materials are kept separate. There is a particular concern that glass shards and PET bottles can contaminate paper loads and wreak havoc in a paper mill, and that glass, plastic and aluminum containers cross-contaminate each other.

Figure 3 from CRI's study, Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems.

A chart illustrating how the costs of single stream are higher than those of dual stream

While collection costs are lower in single-stream systems, processing costs and the costs associated with disposing of contaminated materials are higher. Overall, single-stream costs about $3 more per ton than dual-stream.[2]

In a Resource Recycling article, Daniel Lantz concludes that the proposed benefits of single-stream systems over dual-stream do not outweigh their costs:

In summary, with increased processing costs and lost revenues in total far exceeding collection savings in most instances (and zero under alternating-week collection), overall single-stream recycling does not show the cost advantage that was originally anticipated. As well, the expected increases in capture rate are also not apparent. Overall, dual-stream recycling still appears to be more advantageous.1


Learn more:


Cover of single stream reportDownload Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems
This 2009 report by CRI highlights the economic and environmental impacts of switching to a single-stream system.  By Clarissa Morawski    Download PDF, 1.4MB




Other links:

MRF Material Flow Study, RRS July 2015

Composition of Commingled Recyclables Before and After Processing, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality March 2011

Mixed Waste Processing Economic and Policy Study, American Forest & Paper Association September 2015

California Roundtable, May 23, 2005


Eureka Recycling

Are big blue bins bad for recycling?



1. Source: Lantz, D. "Mixed Residuals". Resource Recycling, December 2008. (Source of data findings, Metro Waste Paper Recovery, 2008)

2. Source: J.Poyry and Skumatz Economic Research Associates. Paper Recycling: Quality is Key to Long-Term Success. p.32. March 2004

3. In Oregon, almost all residential recycling and much commercial recycling is collected as commingled material. Oregon programs pick up glass containers separate from other materials or do not include glass in the on-route collection program, choosing to collect glass through recycling depots or some other method. This is unlike single-stream collection programs in much of the rest of the nation that collect all materials, including glass, mixed in together.



Zero Waste

Setting Our Sights on Zero Beverage Container Waste

Millions of consumers who recycle every day think that because they recycle their bottles and cans, everyone else is recycling too. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Americans waste (landfill, incinerate, or litter) twice as many beverage containers as we recycle.

In 2006, more than 138 billion beverage bottles and cans were not recycled. Nationwide, that’s about 460 per capita— up from 300 per capita just a decade ago. This trend continued in 2010, with more than 153 billion beverage bottles and cans not recycled; at 495 units wasted per capita! In the four years that passed between 2006 and 2010, the percentage of beverage bottles and cans not recycled increased by 10.9%.

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