Most of the plastic bottles collected for recycling today come from curbside collection programs where householders separate designated recyclable materials from their trash and place them out for collection in special receptacles or bags. These recyclables may include containers such as glass and plastic bottles, milk cartons, juice boxes, aluminum cans and foil, and steel cans, as well as newsprint and other recyclable paper products. Some communities allow householders to commingle recyclables, by placing recyclables of different material types into the same receptacle. Others require some level of material segregation, known as source separation. For example, many curbside collection programs require that newsprint and cardboard be bundled, or placed in separate receptacles, and placed alongside receptacles with commingled recyclable containers. These materials are then picked up by the municipality or a contract waste hauler and taken to a materials recovery facility (MRF) for further separation and processing.
Some states and counties have implemented collection systems with even higher levels of source separation. Source separation represents the best opportunity for producing the highest value and highest quality raw materials for recycling since cross-contamination of materials is much less likely. The most common source separation approaches consist of the following:
Bottle collection in states that have bottle deposit legislation; Programs that require the homeowner to set out separate containers for each recyclable material;Programs where commingled recyclables are separated at the truck by collection crews; and Programs that employ drop-off centers where homeowners are asked to take recyclables to a drop-off location, separate them by material type, and place them into designated receptacles.
Materials are then collected and sent to a MRF, an intermediate processing center, or directly to a specific material processor.