Wednesday, March 14, 2001 | 11:10 a.m.
Environmentalists and businessmen agreed that increased public education and the hiring of a regional coordinator would help improve Clark County's 8 percent recycling rate, one of the nation's lowest.
A forum conducted by the state Division of Environmental Protection and Clark County Health Department at the Orleans hotel-casino Tuesday was designed to find answers for the county's poor recycling performance.
About 100 people attended the forum but not a single county commissioner or councilman from any of Clark's municipalities appeared, even though all were invited. The no-shows made it clear to those who attended that recycling's failure to make the local political radar screen is one of the biggest hurdles they must clear.
"It's a local issue and it takes local leadership," said David Emme, chief of the state Bureau of Waste Management. "We invited everybody elected in this region and none of them are here. They don't perceive waste recycling as a critical issue. That's a barrier right at the top."
The Sun reported last year that in 1999 the county recycled only 8.3 percent of its residential and commercial waste, far below the voluntary 25 percent annual goal set by the state under a 1991 law. One national study found Nevada had the nation's fifth lowest recycling rate, 12 percent, in 1998.
Forum participants blamed the low rates on such factors as lack of recycling bins in apartment complexes, relatively low garbage-dumping fees, lack of incentives for local businesses, difficulty finding markets for recycled material and public apathy.
"It seems like the enthusiasm for recycling has faded," said Allen Biaggi, state environmental protection administrator. "Focusing only on curbside recycling in the residential sector will not achieve our 25 percent goal."
The need for increased public education beginning with children was mentioned more than any other potential solution. It was announced at the forum that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $40,000 grant to the Clark County Public Education Foundation for local recycling education.
Participants agreed the public needs to be reminded that recycling is good because it preserves natural resources and saves energy required to manufacture products from raw material. But Tara Pike, coordinator of the UNLV Rebel recycling program, said the education has to be "constant and consistent."
"When the curbside program started it was popular because it was in the news," Pike said. "If you don't maintain the education, especially with the turnover in this community, you won't have the participation."
There also were suggestions to include curbside recycling schedules on the back of every garbage bill and increase the size of bins available to residential customers. Additional waste collection centers throughout the county were also recommended.
Another suggestion that received widespread approval was to hire a Southern Nevada coordinator for recycling programs. Both the state and Washoe County have recycling coordinators. Republic Services of Southern Nevada vice president Alan Gaddy, whose company is Clark's franchised garbage hauler, voiced support for a local recycling coordinator because successful community recycling programs are usually headed by such individuals.
"The coordinator is an important role," Gaddy said. "The concept of having an aggressive person is important in improving the recycling numbers."
But businessman Rob Dorinson, a commercial recycling company owner and president of the Nevada Recyclers Association, said Republic's franchise agreement makes it difficult for independent recyclers to operate locally. Dorinson said the way the county agreement is worded makes it unclear whether independent recyclers have a right to compete for portions of the commercial waste stream that includes such recyclables as aluminum and paper.
Dorinson said much of the commercial waste that goes to Republic's Apex landfill can actually be recycled but isn't because the county considers recyclables mixed with other waste to be "tainted" and not worth recovering.
"This is poor materials management," Dorinson said. "How much of the 7,000-plus tons of waste that goes to the landfill daily is in this category of mixed recyclables? We'll never know until we do something about it."
Suggested incentives for businesses that recycle included tax breaks and reduction of business license fees. It was also suggested that contractors who use recyclables get discounts on their permit fees and that recycling haulers receive fuel tax breaks.
There was optimism that the state's 25 percent goal, which was based on federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, could be achieved if many of the suggestions were adopted. But the federal government intends by 2005 to increase its goal to 35 percent, raising the possibility that the county will continue to lag well behind acceptable recycling standards.
If there is a silver lining for the county and state, it is the fact that many other states have inflated their recycling rates, Emme said. He cited the example of Arkansas, which banned yard waste from landfills but automatically assumed that all such waste was recycled and therefore included in their recycling statistics.
"Other states count things two, three or four times," Emme said. "We try not to do that. The thing is a lot of states cheat on their rates. The methods of counting their rates are all over the map. Here in Nevada we've been punished for taking the high road."
But some Nevada companies don't fully report their recycling activity as required by the state.
"Some of the recyclers don't want that information out because they claim it's proprietary," Emme said. "The downside is that you can't really audit their figures."