State report finds recycling lags in Vegas compared with US

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In this 2013 photo, Republic Services recycling truck driver Jerry Bates makes makes his rounds in Las Vegas. Although resorts on the Las Vegas Strip have been lauded for their recycling efforts, the rest of the Las Vegas area falls short of national recycling rates and has shown little signs of improvement in the last decade and a half, state data show.

In this 2013 photo, Republic Services recycling truck driver Jerry Bates makes makes his rounds in Las Vegas. Although resorts on the Las Vegas Strip have been lauded for their recycling efforts, the rest of the Las Vegas area falls short of national recycling rates and has shown little signs of improvement in the last decade and a half, state data show.

L.E. Baskow

Las Vegas Strip resorts have won praise for their recycling efforts, but a state analysis shows the rest of the Vegas area falls short of national recycling rates and has shown little signs of improvement since 2003.

About 20% of waste produced in Clark County last year was recycled, according to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s 2019 Waste and Reduction Report. That was nearly 10% lower than recycling rates in the Reno area and Carson City and well below the national recycling rate of 35%.

State lawmakers set a 25% recycling goal since 1991, but the rate has barely risen above 21% since 2003, the Sun found.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that municipal contracts with the main waste-hauler in the region, Republic Services, only guarantee recycling service to single-family homes in Clark County.

That means that unless property owners make arrangements to recycle, there are no bins for paper, plastic and metals at apartment complexes, office buildings and businesses.

Environment Nevada advocacy group chief Levi Kamolnick tells the newspaper that with massive landfills and decades of capacity available, it looks like recycling is not a priority for elected officials.

Republic Services spokesman Jeremy Walters said the company’s main Apex Regional Landfill near Las Vegas is one of the largest in the country, won’t reach capacity for another 300 years and is cheaper to operate than Republic’s local recycling facility.

On average, it costs about 75% more for Republic to recycle than to send waste to the landfill, Walters said.

Recycling costs are unlikely to go down soon because of policy changes in countries that have traditionally accepted recyclables from the United States.

China in 2017 enacted strict new standards on acceptable level of contamination of imported recyclables, increasing costs for companies such as Republic to clean materials prior to sending them to China.

“What happened recently in the last couple of years was that China, the biggest purchaser of recycling, had been warning us that we need to clean up our recycling,” said Mitch Hedlund, CEO of Recycle Across America. “So they put their foot down.”

Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and India, all of which had been purchasing the world’s recyclables in addition to China, have enacted similar policies in the last few years to reduce the acceptable contamination levels for recyclables, said Jennifer Lazovich, a lawyer for Republic.

Republic is increasing its monthly recycling rate for residences in Las Vegas by 74 cents, citing those changes.

Brian Northam, environmental health supervisor at the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas, said the biggest incentive for recycling would be a change in market profitability.

“The only other thing that could do it would be to have a law written that would mandate it,” he said.

Hedlund said he believes Republic’s control of both landfill and residential recycling services gives the company little incentive to divert reusable materials away from the landfill.

Republic did not directly respond to a question from the Sun about whether it has a financial incentive to keep recycling rates low, calling recycling “the right thing to do for the people and the planet.”



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