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Recycling in Las Vegas can seem difficult. Here's what you can do

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2013, file photo, a plastic bag sits along a roadside in Sacramento, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2013, file photo, a plastic bag sits along a roadside in Sacramento, Calif.

Saturday is World Recycling Day, and although most people don't intentionally hoard trash, thousands of households in Southern Nevada often face challenges with recycling.

Jeremy Walters (left) and Tara Pike (right) with State of Nevada producer Zachary Green.
Mike Prevatt
Jeremy Walters (left) and Tara Pike (right) with State of Nevada producer Zachary Green.

Unlike single-family homes, recycling is essentially nonexistent in apartments and condos, leaving environmentally-conscious Nevadans unsure of how to get rid of items like old toasters, TVs, or nontraditional plastics and papers.

What steps can be taken to improve recycling infrastructure around Southern Nevada?  

Jeremy Walters is Republic Services' community relations manager and Tara Pike is UNLV’s sustainability coordinator.

Resources mentioned on air

What do people believe can be recycled but actually can’t?

PIKE: I would say one of my top things that I want people to know is your Starbucks cups, your coffee cups, your plastic cups and paper cups are not recyclable. You just need to throw those away. We get those all the time … especially when they have coffee still in them and then it gets all over everything. Just not recyclable. You know, people also think plastic bags are recyclable in your curbside program, not recyclable. They need to be clean, in order to be recycled. And once they go through the process of being mixed with everything else, they get very dirty and torn and they just are not recyclable anymore. And those need to go to the grocery store. And pizza boxes are another big thing on a college campus. If they're covered in grease and food, anything that's covered in grease and food is not recyclable anymore. So you can pull the clean side off the pizza box, but that dirty side has got to go into the garbage or compost. Which, you know, we don't have enough of here in Southern Nevada.

WALTERS: Electronics are something that we're seeing more and more frequently in curbside recycling. And that creates quite the scare for processing plants across the country. I mean, if you think about the volume of paper and cardboard that we're dealing with, if you throw your old cell phone and your recycling bin, that lithium battery has the potential to create exponential fires. There's a lot of fuel sources, right? The paper and even plastic, once that starts catching fire, we got to keep these things out of your curbside recycling bin. And I think that's where the confusion sometimes comes into play with consumers is that we think that everything is recyclable curbside, most everything can be recycled, but potentially has to go through a specialized process.

What about plastic containers with sticky labels on them?

WALTERS: That's okay, the label is okay on your plastic container. And that's something that the polymer center will actually be addressing later on. When we open it, we're going to be running all the plastic through the PET, through a hot wash system. So it's gonna be washing off all those labels, any other of those potential glue residues, and it's truly making that food grade product that these large CPG companies can then buy pure, clean PET flake.

Can you talk about the UNLV initiatives in the works?

PIKE: One is that we are finally starting our climate action planning process. Something that I've been kind of pushing for since 2009 or so. So I'm really excited about that. And second, we have a hospitality class, they're an event management class. And this year, they decided to manage an Earth Day (April 22) event where we will be collecting electronic waste, paint, providing shredding service, and then also a drop off for traditional recyclables for the people, like you said that live in apartments or townhomes or condos that don't have access to recycling.

Guests: Jeremy Walters, community relations manager, Republic Services; Tara Pike, sustainability coordinator, UNLV

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.