An analysis of the recycling programs of the 10 biggest cities in the U.S. shows single-stream collection is the norm – and foam polystyrene and plastic bags are being shooed away from carts.
According to the just-updated U.S. Census, the 10 largest U.S. cities are:
- New York (8.49 million people)
- Los Angeles (3.93 million people)
- Chicago (2.72 million people)
- Houston (2.24 million people)
- Philadelphia (1.56 million people)
- Phoenix (1.54 million people)
- San Antonio (1.44 million people)
- San Diego (1.38 million people)
- Dallas (1.28 million people)
- San Jose (1.02 million people)
Of those cities, nine offer single-stream recycling collection to residents, research by Resource Recycling has found. New York, while looking to make a switch to single-stream collection in the near future, is the only top city still using a dual-stream system.
The Big Apple, however, is generally in line with the rest of the pack when it comes to what materials are accepted for curbside recycling. According to Resource Recycling’s look at educational and outreach materials from the cities, all 10 currently accept glass containers, paper products and a wide range of plastics, except expanded polystyrene (EPS) and plastic bags.
San Antonio and Los Angeles are the only cities in the top 10 list that allow residents to put plastic bags and EPS in with other recyclables. San Antonio’s recycling program does not allow residents to recycle packing peanuts curbside.
Recycling programs generally refer residents to drop off plastic bags at grocery stores. EPS foam, meanwhile, is generally directed toward drop-off locations. Both products are recyclable, but have posed sortation and mechanical challenges at materials recovery facilities nationwide.
The inclusion of glass in each of the programs comes at a time when many communities are grappling with the material.
Recycling and diversion rates for the biggest U.S. cities tend to be harder to pin down.
For those cities that publish and use recycling rates, San Diego’s curbside rate of 24 percent and Philadelphia’s rate of 21 percent are highest, but both are still below the national average of 34.5 percent. Three other cities have recently offered up a curbside recycling rate as well: New York’s latest estimate suggests the recycling rate is at 15.4 percent while Chicago is at 11.1 percent and Houston sits at 6 percent.
Los Angeles reports a diversion rate of 76.4 percent, which includes both waste-to-energy activity and use of solid waste as alternative daily cover at landfills.
Program websites for Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio and San Jose do not provide recycling or diversion rates.