The State of Sorted Waste

Slowly but surely, Nevadans are learning to recycle

Photo courtesy of Republic Services

Photo courtesy of Republic Services

Amazing fact: That can of beer in your hand likely had a previous life as another, different can of beer.

“All of our aluminum goes back to Anheuser-Busch, where they make more beer cans with it,” says Len Christopher of Republic Services, the company that picks up our trash and recyclables. Christopher, the general manager of Republic’s recycling division, is pleased to report that he’s seeing a lot more in our recycle bins than he used to, from aluminum cans on up.

“Only eight years ago, the recycling rate for the state was about 2 percent,” Christopher says. But thanks to a move toward single-stream recycling (meaning all your glass, aluminum and paper recyclables go in the same container, not three separate bins), that rate has jumped to 25 percent. And with Republic’s new state-of-the-art recycling facility set to open later this year, Christopher expects that number to soon hit 35 percent.

Single-stream recycling programs are already in place in Henderson and North Las Vegas, with the City of Las Vegas and Clark County soon to follow. Christopher is bullishly optimistic that Republic’s new single-stream recycling center—built with $34 million of Republic’s own money, without any state or federal aid—will remove many of our hesitations about recycling. It will use state-of-the-art optical scanners to sort our recyclables, saving time and effort at both the business and consumer end.

“We’ll have sorters that will be able to get fiber out of the plastics and things like that,” Christopher says. “It’ll be much more efficient.”

Until that facility opens, however, Republic has one optical sorter and a bunch of employees picking through your throwaways. Insert your “it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it” joke here. But the reality is the job wouldn’t be that dirty if everyone completely emptied jars, bottles and cans, and made sure only recyclables were placed in recycling containers (acceptable items are printed on the bins).

“We’re still getting quite a bit of contamination in our recycling stream,” Christopher says. “You don’t necessarily have to wash and scrub out your containers; if there’s a remnant left in a salsa jar, that’s not an issue.”

Those minor challenges aside, Christopher is thrilled with the community’s improved recycling habits and its desire to go single-stream. “When somebody finds out what I do for a living, everybody wants to know, ‘When am I getting on the program?’” Christopher says. “The demand is out there. That’s why we’re investing significantly in the community to make it happen.”