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October 26, 2014

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Nellis households take to commingled recycling

Hauler president says ease, convenience key to test run’s success

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Steve Marcus

Since Republic started its commingled recycling pilot program at Nellis Air Force Base, the number of people recycling has shot up.

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Forklift operator Godiell Harris arranges bales of high-density polyethylene plastic at the Republic Services recycling facility.

Republic Services says the amount of waste from homes on Nellis Air Force Base that’s recycled rather than sent to the landfill has increased 21 percentage points since the trash hauling company revamped the pickup schedule there.

In January, as part of a pilot program, Republic asked Nellis residents to throw their recyclables into one container rather than separating them into three smaller bins. The changes also included a switch to once-a-week pickup for trash and recyclables. And, glass is not recycled under the alternate system.

Republic’s current contract with the county requires twice-a-week trash collection and recycling every other week.

Since the pilot program began, the amount of refuse from base housing that’s recycled has increased almost sevenfold, from 3.7 percent to 24.6 percent, according figures provided by Republic Services.

And Republic Area President Bob Coyle says the percentage of homes at Nellis that recycle has gone from 15 percent to more than 60 percent.

He argues that the success of the Nellis program clearly demonstrates that commingled recycling and more frequent pickups are the key to more recycling. “When you make it easy and convenient for people to recycle, they’ll want to participate,” Coyle said.

Republic officials are pointing to the early results from Nellis to support their proposal to use the same system countywide. But Republic’s efforts to go to once-a-week collection of nonrecyclable garbage are opposed by many Las Vegas Valley residents and county commissioners concerned about the smell of ripe refuse in summer. They figure the proposal boils down to increased profit for Republic and decreased service for the company’s customers.

Although it seems everyone can agree on the goal of decreasing the amount of trash that goes to the Apex landfill and increasing the amount that’s recycled, the issue of how to do that is contentious.

And not everyone agrees that the Nellis data are compelling.

“That’s a great sign of progress, but I wouldn’t make the example of Nellis Air Force Base my model,” said County Commissioner Tom Collins, who has been a critic of reducing trash pickup. “If they put out a program that says we want to make this successful to set an example, (base residents) are going to salute and do what they’re asked to do.

“It’s a much more disciplined neighborhood than you would find in other cross sections of the community,” he said, adding that it’s that discipline that might account for higher recycling numbers there.

Coyle countered that base housing is just like any other neighborhood.

“As we roll out other pilots we’ll be able to compare, but when I drive around at Nellis and look at the houses, they look like the average home,” he said.

Republic will run three other pilot programs, all of which will require residents to commingle their recycling. One will leave collection days the same. A second will decrease trash pickup to once a week and increase recycling pickup to once a week. A third will leave trash pickup the same, twice a week, and increase recycling collection to once a week.

Those pilot programs are expected to begin in three volunteer neighborhoods in late June or early July and last at least a year. Republic will take the results to the county commissioners, who have said they want to find a way to increase recycling. The Nellis pilot mimics one of the three pilots.

Coyle said base residents were notified of the changes to their pickup days in the same way other county residents would be, and not by base commanders. Republic hosted a barbecue on the base attended by about 1,000 people. About 4,100 people live in base housing, according to Pinnacle property management company, which administers base housing.

Since the new system took effect, “the feedback from our residents has been extremely positive,” Bernadette Lowe, community director for Pinnacle, said in an e-mail.

At the barbecue, Republic surveyed residents about their trash disposal habits. About 80 percent of those surveyed said they would recycle more if they could throw all their recycling into a large bin.

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed also said they put their trash out twice a week. No data were available Thursday regarding Nellis residents’ satisfaction with once-a-week collection of nonrecyclable garbage.

Republic also sent out letters to Nellis customers about the changes. Then, in the first week of January, the company delivered the new 96-gallon recycling bins and starter kits with instructions attached.

The bins cost about $50 each, Coyle said. But critics have said the total of eight pickups a month instead of the current schedule’s 10 would save Republic more money than it would spend on new bins and trucks for commingled recyclables.

Coyle said the company won’t know the dollar figures for at least six months.

Collins says he’ll want to look closely at that data and much more. He wants to find out, for example, whether “folks in a 1,200-square-foot house” don’t mind “trash sitting in their garage or their pantry for a week.”

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