New research suggests mixed-waste MRFs are capable of recovering more plastics than single-stream facilities.

A study, commissioned by the American Forest & Paper Association and conducted by consultancy Burns & McDonnell, considers the costs and recycling effectiveness of single-stream and mixed-waste collection systems when applied to a hypothetical community of 650,000 residents.

While the results suggest mixed-waste facilities cost almost twice as much to build and achieve lower overall recovery rates, the data also indicate the controversial processing approach outperforms single-stream collection when it comes to plastics.

According to the findings, a single-stream facility serving a community of 650,000 would recover 4,084 tons of plastics per year. A mixed waste operation, meanwhile, would recover 11,399 tons of plastics annually, an 179 percent increase.

In addition, mixed-waste MRFs producing refuse-derived fuel (RDF) from non-recyclable plastics were found to create more revenue and avoid disposal costs.

The latest study follows the abrupt closure of a recently opened mixed-waste processing facility in Montgomery, Ala., owned by Infinitus Energy. That facility, which has been touted as a model for mixed-waste’s future success, had been operating for just over a year.

According to the study from AF&PA, a single-stream facility today makes 52 percent of its money from the sale of recovered paper. A mixed-waste facility makes just 16 percent of its money on paper, focusing instead on more valuable, and easier to clean, commodities in the plastics and metals stream.

While generally opposed by paper and recycling groups, mixed-waste processing has been met with more interest from the plastic reclamation industry. In a paper produced for the American Chemistry Council in June, researchers indicated the approach could enhance the recovery of plastic containers and said there was a “tremendous potential” to use non-recycled plastics to produce RDF.

During last month’s Resource Recycling Conference, Scott Saunders from KW Plastics noted he’s seen no difference between the quality of plastics coming from single-stream and mixed-waste operations. He urged attendees to consider mixed waste as a means to increase domestic supply of recovered plastics.