A few years ago, Republic Services, the primary waste collector in Clark County, started offering single-stream recycling. It allowed people to put all recycling into one main bin instead of separating recyclables into different bins.
Despite that advance, a new state report says only 20 percent of the waste in Clark County was recycled last year. That’s 10 percentage points below Reno and 15 percent less than the national average.
Jeremy Walters is the head of community relations at Republic Services. He noted that single-stream recycling is a relatively new program and his company is working on educating people about what can go into recycling.
But some people say they don't recycle because they don't see the point anymore. Since China announced it is not taking recycling from the United States and Europe, people believe their recycling is just dumped into a landfill.
Walters said that is not the case with recycling in Southern Nevada.
"If we told you that we accept it, then we accept it," he said, "And we're going to do our best to move it. I understand that there is a lot of confusing information around the country culminating around recycling."
He said some companies in other states have applied to put recovered material into landfills but Republic Service is not doing that.
Tara Pike is the sustainability coordinator for UNLV. She said the problem isn't just that China won't take recycling its that they won't take 'dirty recycling.'
"Their real goal is to get clean material," she said, "They'll take clean material but they don't want a bunch of garbage in it."
Pike knows all too well how messy it can get when people either don't pay attention to what goes into a recycling bin, they don't know what can be recycled or they don't clean out recyclable items.
A program her office is running at a housing unit on campus is supposed only be recycling but she's found everything from rotten food to used feminine products in the bin.
"It is extremely difficult to get clean recycling from these units," she said.
The problem speaks to not only the problem with getting a good recycling program going at an apartment complex but also to the general problem of people not understanding what can be recycled and what can't.
"People have wishful thinking. They're wishful that the thing they have in their hand can be recyclable and even if it can't, they'll put it in the recycle bin, hoping that it will be recycled."
Walters agreed. He said the industry term for people like that are 'wish-cyclers.'
"As consumers, we may not be sure what can and cannot be recycled and so we feel like something should be recycled," he said, "So, we throw it in the bin and it sort of takes that bad feeling away from us because we put it in the right bin not understanding what actually happens beyond the bin and once it's at the recycling center and all the bad implications that come along with throwing the wrong thing in there."
Walters pointed out that items like light-weight bendable plastics like grocery store bags and bubble wrap actually gum up the works at a recycling plant and can't be recycled.
Neither can packaging or containers that have been contaminated by food - like pizza boxes or frozen food packaging.
Pike said she used to tell people - if you don't know, put in the recycle bin - now, even though it bothers her to say it - she tells people to throw it away if they don't know.
There is a bright spot when it comes to recycling in Southern Nevada. Scott Seastrand is the vice president of Western Elite. The company specializes in industrial and commercial waste removal.
He told KNPR's State of Nevada that in 2018 his company removed 157 tons of industrial waste from the landfill. That waste can often be repurposed and reused in other ways.
For instance, concrete can be crushed up and reused as fill in a property site or base for a road.
Western Elite is also getting into the business of recycling biosolids coming out of the water reclamation plant.
"We are making a compost product with that and we're soon to have our first product here in the next few months," Seastrand said.
What Republic Services accepts:
- Junk Mail
- Phone Books
- Aluminum beverage cans
- Food cans
- Aluminum foil
- Ream wrappers
- File Folders
- Poster Board
- Frozen Food/Cereal boxes
- Cardboard boxes
- Water bottles
- Soda bottles
- Milk jugs
- Food containers
- Glass bottles
- Glass jars
- Grocery bags or light-weight, bendable plastics like dry cleaning bags
- Styrofoam containers/cups
- Food scraps
- Yard clippings
- Pizza boxes
- Wax-coated cardboard
For more information: recyclingsimplified.com
Jeremy Walters, community relations, Republic Services; Tara Pike, sustainability coordinator, UNLV; Scott Seastrand, vice president, Western Elite.
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.