How All-in-One Recycling Systems Work

In the late 1990s single-stream recycling emerged. Suddenly, laziness didn't hold water as an excuse not to recycle.
Tammy Wolfe/iStockphoto

When recycling took off in the United States in the early 1990s, the environmentally conscious were instructed to sort their recyclables into separate bins. Paper went into one bin, plastic in another, glass sorted by color into another bin. By the end of the decade, however, technology that allowed single-stream recycling was developed. At last, even the laziest among us had no excuse to avoid recycling.

Under the single-stream recycling system, all recyclables go into a single bin. At the recycling plant, recyclables are loaded onto a conveyer belt and pushed off in response to certain stimuli: Metals lift iron-based metals from the belt; puffs of air blow paper from the line, and so on.


Single-stream recycling has made curbside recycling a cinch, but getting your recyclables to the curb in the first place can be a chore. When it's 10 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit or otherwise), who wants to take an empty can to the recycling bin? Trash is easy enough to handle; we have trash cans in our kitchens to take care of that. Why don't we have recycling cans? It's no problem to buy a plastic bin or to use a bag to hold recyclables until you're ready to haul it to the curb. Like all trash bins, though, these containers can fill up pretty quickly.

­Enter the all-in-one-recycling system. These bins accept every recyclable imaginable into one several-gallon bin -- glass, paper, plastic, cans and more. Much of the recycled material is crushed into a compact size, which keeps you from having to run to the curb in your robe when it's cold out or living in a kitchen overflowing with evidence of your eco-friendliness.

Find out more about this invention on the next page.


Benefits of All-in-One Recycling Systems

Mode center.
A Mode all-in-one recycling system.
Courtesy Mode Products

You can make the case that any bin kept in your kitchen for recyclables is an all-in-one recycling center. After all, throwing paper, plastic and glass into the same container constitutes an all-in-one mechanism, but there are slightly more high-tech solutions on the market.

Why buy an all-in-one recycling system in the first place? It turns out that there are plenty of benefits to having an all-in-one recycling system in your kitchen. For one thing, it's easy to use: Having a place to throw all of your waste is nice enough; having a machine that cuts down on trips outside to throw out that waste is a beautiful thing.


The all-in-one recycling system, created by American company Mode Products, features a crusher that cuts recyclables down to about one-third their size. Plastic bottles and cans are no match for the mechanical crusher located in the front of the recycling system's top. A press of a lever on the bottom of the unit activates a crusher that compacts recyclables and tosses them into the 8-gallon (30.3-liter) waste bin. Since it's mechanical, the compactor doesn't require electricity to function, which makes the unit all the more eco-friendly.

Be careful about what you put into the recycling bin. It's a bad idea to compact absolutely everything. Why? Many recycling centers outfitted with magnets and lasers to separate recyclables have trouble turning a profit from residual waste like pulverized broken glass, especially when differently colored glass shards are mixed together. Apparently, Mode Products picked up on this fact and designed their system accordingly. The rear slot in the 30-inch tall by 15-inch (38.1-centimeter) wide unit leads directly into the eight-gallon bin, so glass bottles can be added to the mix without breaking.

In the front of the unit is an awning slot that accepts paper waste like junk mail and newspapers. This slot leads to a separate, five-gallon bin for paper recyclables. So, you've got two bins for a total of 13 gallons (49.2 liters) of recyclable material. That's great, but what happens when you forget to take the bin liners to the curb for pick-up? Mode Products' all-in-one-recycling system includes an alarm that can be set to alert its owner when recycling day nears. If you're the type that likes insentient devices to remind you of what a conscientious person you are, then this all-in-one recycling system should be right up your alley. The same digital display shows a running tally (in pounds) of all of the recyclables you've fed into it over time.

If single-stream recycling and all-in-one recycling systems offer any pattern for the future, then it shouldn't be long before robots start taking our recyclables to the curb for us. No robe necessary.

For more information on all-in-one recycling systems and other related topics, visit the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Kiely, Michael. "Mode all-in-one home recycling system with mechanical compactor." The Green Head. (Accessed Feb. 1, 2009.)
  • "Americans ring in 2009 with greener solutions." BusinessWire. December 30, 2008. (Feb.1, 2009)
  • "Mode all-in-one recycling center streamlines home recycling, eliminates kitchen clutter." Reuters. Jan.22, 2009. (Jan. 31, 2009)
  • "Premium all-in-one recycling center." Mode Products. (Jan. 31, 2009)