The frustration of seeing only paper recycling bins when you really just want to recycle your Coca-Cola bottle is now over. Thanks to a new system implemented this summer, Ann Arbor’s recycling bins are now nondiscriminatory.

Since the program was launched on July 5, University and city officials say single-stream recycling has led to an increase in recycling activity. The city credits the program with more than doubling the amount of recyclable material being brought in to the refurbished Ann Arbor Materials and Transfer Recovery Facility (MRF).

In the new system, Ann Arbor residents and participating businesses no longer have to sort their recyclables into separate bins. A new sorting line at the MRF, which receives recyclables from the City of Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University in addition to the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, does that job instead. The system also allows people to recycle a wider range of plastics.

Single-stream recycling started on campus this semester, according to University Recycling Coordinator Alison Richardson.

“We are working building by building to transition the campus by fitting bins with new lids labeled ‘Recyclables’ that accept both paper and container recyclables,” Richardson wrote in an e-mail interview. She added that not all buildings on campus have received these new lids yet.

“However, regardless of what recycling bins are currently labeled, all recyclables can be placed in them,” she said.

Officials hope the ease of recycling will encourage more people to place their reusable materials in recycling bins instead of trashcans.

Single-stream recycling has enhanced recycling efforts at the Big House, particularly since plastic cups are now accepted recyclables, according to Richardson. She wrote that with the help of the newly labeled bins there’s been an increase in both the recycling rate and amount of recyclables collected this football season compared to the 2009 season.

Residence halls have also made the switch. According to Richardson, University Waste Management Services has made a concerted push to improve students’ awareness of the new system through posters, table tents in dining halls and distributing educational materials to residential advisors.

LSA junior Heather Burcham said she hasn’t been a big recycler, but thinks she will recycle more now because of the new system.

“We don’t recycle at home,” she said. “It’s a good way for me to get started with it by just putting everything in one bin.”

Last Monday, Waste Management Services planned America Recycles Day to educate members of the University community on the new system. Richardson organized charter buses to transport about 25 University staff and students to take a tour of Ann Arbor’s MRF and learn more about how the recycling process works.

“We received a lot of positive feedback from those who attended, and there are many others who would have liked to attend, so we will likely plan something similar in the spring,” Richardson wrote.

In addition to boosting recycling at some University locations, the single-stream system has increased recycling activity throughout Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, with the amount of recyclable material brought to MRF more than doubling, according to Thomas McMurtrie, city solid waste coordinator and systems planner.

He added that the amount of recyclables received from curbside residential programs in Ann Arbor increased 17.3 percent, while the recycling rate increased from 33.3 percent to 38.5 percent. The amount of disposed waste also decreased 5.9 percent.

McMurtrie and Richardson agreed that the next few months would better indicate the success of the new program.

“It has been less than three months since the switch,” Richardson wrote, referring to this semester. “We’ll have a better handle on increases in recycling as the year progresses.”

Ann Arbor’s recycling infrastructure had to undergo major changes in order to put the single-stream system into place. According to the city’s recycling website, it cost $3.25 million to upgrade the MRF to a single-stream collection line.

McMurtrie wrote in an e-mail interview that the plant was shut down for about six weeks while the new sorting line was installed. In that time, the city’s recyclables were transferred to another facility.

According to a Michigan Radio July 2010 video, the new machines are used to loosen, separate and package the various materials into bales. Workers watch conveyor belts to make sure the machines are sorting effectively. From the MRF, the recyclable materials are sold to companies like Anheuser-Busch and the Packaging Corporation of America to make new goods, McMurtrie wrote.

“The new system is more automated than the previous system, so the same number of sorters can process quite a bit more material,” McMurtrie wrote.

He added that the old two-stream system processed between four and ten tons per hour, while the new plant’s capacity is 20 tons per hour.

As part of the transition, the city had to invest in new recycling bins for residents, adding another $1.4 million to program costs, according to the city’s website. However, savings from single-stream recycling are expected to repay the investment within seven years.

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