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September 2, 2015

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Single-stream recycling more popular than sorting, Republic Services says

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Leila Navidi

Todd Korgan stands with his new recycling and garbage bins at his home near downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011.

Recycling

Todd Korgan stands with his new recycling and garbage bins at his home near downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Recycling isn’t popular in Southern Nevada, or so the numbers seem to show. Just 3 percent of Republic Services’ customers recycle their plastics, cans and paper, according to the trash hauler.

But some Southern Nevadans — about 84,000 Republic customers — recycle at 10 times that rate.

The difference between the 3 percent and 30 percent recyclers? Whether they have to sort their recyclables into three bins or are able to put them in a single container, sometimes called single-stream recycling.

Since 2008, a growing number of homes have participated in a pilot single-stream recycling program. Those in the program — about 84,000 — are given one large recycling bin and one large trash bin. Once a week, trash and recyclables are picked up on the same day. Republic separates the paper, plastic and cans at its plant. Then once every two weeks, larger amounts of trash — bags of lawn clippings, for instance, or an old sink — are hauled away.

This differs from the typical trash service Republic provides to 433,000 Southern Nevada homes: twice-a-week trash pickup and recycling pickup every other week. Large trash is picked up twice a week.

The main difference between the typical service and the pilot program — so-called because when it was established three years ago it was intended to exist for a limited time while it was assessed — is that most Republic customers have to separate their recycling into small red, white and blue containers. The 3 percent recycling rate indicates how unpopular that is.

The pilot program, meanwhile, is “pretty successful,” says Bob Coyle, Republic Services’ vice president who deals with local politicians on trash issues. He cites company surveys that show a customer approval rate of 80 percent.

So why not let everyone have single-stream recycling? Money.

Coyle reels off a list of expenditures invested in the pilot program and how much it would cost to expand:

• For those 84,000 homes in the pilot program, Republic has spent $21 million for large trash/recycle bins and the trucks, which are fitted with arms to pick up bins.

• Henderson has 24,000 households in the pilot program. If it were expanded to all households, the company would have to spend another $21.2 million.

• If all of Las Vegas converted, expect another $25.5 million for bins and $16 million for trucks.

Coyle says because of the added expense, Republic would need to scale back its trash pickup to once a week if the once-a-week recycling program went countywide.

Therein lies the rub.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani may be one of the greenest politicians in Nevada. While in the state Legislature she championed a law that gave large tax rebates to those who built certified “green” structures.

It goes without saying that she supports recycling. And she likes the fact that the pilot program has increased rates of recycling. That said, Giunchigliani strongly disagrees with Republic’s insistence that it needs to raise rates or scale back trash pickup — from twice to once a week — to expand single-bin recycling countywide.

She cites the company’s current franchise agreement that allows for unlimited trash pickup and how that would be limited by such a change.

Now, “I can put out 25 bags and they have to pick it up,” she adds. “If we go to one (trash container) and one (recycling container), they will be making so much money off what they used to have to collect.”

In an upcoming meeting with company officials, she said she will suggest they do both: the large bins for recycling and twice-a-week trash pickup.

Todd Korgan, a downtown resident whose house was included in the pilot recycling program over the summer, has always been a good recycler. He grew up in Portland, Ore., a city with a green reputation, where he never remembers trash getting picked up more than once a week.

“I think people in Vegas might be a little spoiled” with the twice-a-week trash schedule, he said.

“If you recycle more, you have less garbage,” Korgan adds. “And it’s really easy now that we don’t have to separate it.”

More than a year ago Giunchigliani formed a committee to look at recycling. Her colleague, Commissioner Steve Sisolak, also sat on the committee.

“The committee was well-intentioned but I don’t think it addressed the issues that needed to be addressed for us to move forward,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak, though, wants the County Commission to talk about single-stream recycling. He is one of the customers who separate recycling into three bins and he admits he doesn’t do it much because it takes too much time.

Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager said she isn’t a good recycler, either, and for the same reason, but since her neighborhood came under the single-stream recycling program, she’s a convert. Brager said she recycles so much now she doesn’t create as much trash, and once-a-week pickup works for her.

“Now, all we have is a tiny little trash can for our garbage,” she said. “I mean, it’s tiny.”

Brager suggested a compromise: Maybe Republic could pick up trash twice a week during the hot months of June, July, August and September — when some fear letting trash sit around for a week would be a smelly proposition — and once a week in the cooler months.

“We need to figure out something,” Brager said, adding how surprised she was that she likes single-stream recycling. “Honestly, I didn’t want to like it, but it really does work for our needs.”

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