Singular Success

Singular Success

Simplifying residential recycling results in higher yields for Miami-Dade County.

Miami may be known for its electric nightlife and beautiful beaches, but lately it's recycling that has residents excited. When Miami-Dade County, Fla., converted its residential curbside recycling program from dual-stream to single-stream in July 2008, monthly collection tonnages immediately began surpassing the 5,000-ton mark on a regular basis. Prior to the switch, Florida's most populous county had only once collected more than 5,000 tons of recyclables in a month — in September 1994 — when a total of 5,128 tons were collected. But since phasing in single-stream recycling, the county has hit that milestone seven times, including an all-time high of 5,781 tons in December 2009.

This has nearly doubled the amount of recyclable material collected in Miami-Dade annually, from roughly 31,000 tons during the last year of the dual-stream program to nearly 60,000 tons collected in the first year of the single-stream program.

Miami-Dade began curbside recycling service in May 1990, when it rolled out a dual-stream recycling program to 225,000 households. At the time, the service was the largest single-vendor curbside recycling program in the United States. As part of the dual-stream program, participating households received two 18-gallon bins. Residents were required to separate recyclable items, with newspapers going into the green bin, and glass, plastic, and metal food and beverage containers going into the blue one.

After filling the bins, residents had to carry (or drag, if especially heavy) them to the curb for weekly collection. A limited number of items were accepted in the program. Collection drivers would exit their vehicles at each house and dump the bins' contents into their trucks. Although Miami-Dade residents were enthusiastic about the dual-stream program when it began, interest began to wane, and collection totals decreased slowly over time.

In 2008, Miami-Dade re-engineered its old dual-stream recycling program into a state-of-the-art, single-stream program. New automated collection technology was incorporated into the program. This meant drivers no longer needed to risk injury by exiting their trucks and lifting heavy recycling bins. At the same time, automated collection increased productivity as drivers were able to collect recyclables from more homes than before. And they were able to do so while burning less fuel than before — because of the switch from weekly to bi-weekly collection — resulting in a reduction in the county's carbon footprint.

New 65-gallon wheeled carts were distributed for the single-stream program, though the program is scalable. Residents can exchange the standard cart for one with a 95-gallon capacity or 35-gallon capacity, depending on need. Moreover, a wider range of items are collected under the new program. Metal (both steel and aluminum) cans, newspapers, glass, and plastic food and beverage containers are still acceptable. But now residents can recycle all types of narrow-neck plastic containers, cardboard and a wider variety of paper including glossy magazines, junk mail, envelopes, copy machine paper, cereal boxes and more. And all of those materials go into one cart.

Miami-Dade's single-stream recycling program came with a new motto: “Easy on the Earth, Easy on You.” Residents cite the program's simplicity and ease of use as reasons why they are recycling more than before.

Outreach and education on Miami-Dade's new program have also helped increase recycling totals. Informational materials on the program are mailed directly to all customers annually and are available on the county's Web site at (the Web site includes a “recycling alerts” feature that reminds customers via e-mail of their upcoming recycling day). Additionally, customers can call the county's 3-1-1 system to receive the latest information.

Kathleen Woods-Richardson is the director of the Miami-Dade Department of Solid Waste Managementin Miami-Dade County, Fla.

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