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September 22, 2014

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Valley apartments go green with recycling

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Richard Brian

Las Ventanas resident Sue Wilson stands by one of the recycling bins in her Summerlin retirement community. Wilson helped lead the initiative to start a recycling program at her senior apartment complex.

Curbside is perhaps the easiest way to recycle — but few apartment dwellers have that option in Clark County.

A few apartment complexes have started recycling efforts for their residents as an alternative to taking their recyclables to drop-off sites or the home of a friend who has curbside pickup.

Sue Wilson, a resident of Las Ventanas, started the program at the Summerlin retirement community after she grew tired of driving her recyclables to Henderson during family visits there.

Wilson, 81, moved to the community about two years ago from Denver, where she said recyclable containers were commonplace in shopping center parking lots.

When she didn't find the same convenience in Las Vegas, Wilson called Republic Services about starting a recycling program.

"They were so open minded about it that they took it almost as a challenge," she said.

Her fellow residents were eager also to do "the right thing" and recycle, Wilson said.

"People wanted to do it. You saw that anytime you talked to anybody about it, they wished they could," she said. "It was a seed that was growing."

Within a couple of weeks, Republic Services made a presentation to the community and shortly after delivered two recycling containers.

Unlike the red, white and blue containers used for residential curbside recycling, Las Ventanas residents place mixed recyclables in blue garbage bags, which the community management provides weekly at no cost to residents. Regular trash goes into white bags.

Residents place the bags in one canister at the end of the hall on each floor. Maintenance staff collects the canisters and separates the bags into the appropriate dumpster.

The program's success is based on making it easy for residents, said Tom Feeback, health services administrator for Las Ventanas.

"We recycle everything now. We weren't recycling anything (before)," he said.

Although the community does not track its recycling rate, Feeback said going green has saved some green, as in money.

The 306-unit community cut down its trash containers from three to one, saving about $2,500 a year in fees to Republic Services, he said.

"It doesn't sound like a lot of money and it's not in the big scheme of things, but it was a reduction in our prior costs," Feeback said.

Republic Services can accommodate recycling pickup at any apartment complex, but just a handful use it because of costs and limited space on their property for additional garbage containers, local company President Bob Coyle said.

Las Ventanas is a classic example of how apartment recycling programs can work because it's simple for the residents to use, he said.

"The difference there is (residents) don't have to work harder to figure out where the recycling container is," he said. "Whereas you get into the bigger apartment complexes, unless they were designed to have a trash container and a recycling container side by side, the recycle container may be 300 feet from somebody's apartment door. Most apartment dwellers don't wander around the complex looking for the (recycling) container."

Southern Nevada recycles 19 percent of its solid waste with about 2 percent of that total from residences. Nevada does better at 22 percent, but the national average is 32 percent.

Apartments make up the second most common form of dwelling in the county with 155,200 units, more than all the condominiums, townhouses and mobile homes combined.

Despite its paltry average, the valley's demand for recycling remains strong, Coyle said. Last year, the company expanded commercial routes from 360 to more than 1,600.

In an attempt to improve residential participation, a countywide pilot program is under way to examine the best frequency of pickups and method of curbside recycling.

It doesn't include apartment complexes, but Coyle said five communities have started programs, 24 are scheduled to begin in the next few months and the company has made presentations to 17 other homeowners associations. By mid-summer, more than 20,000 homes could be participating in programs.

Red Rock Country Club in Summerlin started its pilot program at the beginning of February. It's recycling rate grew from 6 to 33 percent in the first two weeks, Coyle said.

The county expects to receive the results of the pilot programs next year.

Republic Services plans to conduct customer surveys in the fall and provide the results to the homeowners associations.

"If they want to keep it, we're going to leave them in place," Coyle said. "The results are overwhelming positive."

Last summer, General Services Corp. started recycling programs at three of its six apartment communities in the valley.

Regional Manager Brenda LaVotta was a member of the advisory committee that created the options for the county's pilot programs.

The company is testing its own program for one year in which residents can deposit mixed recyclables in a container in the parking lot and junk mail and newspapers in marked bins next to the community mailboxes.

At the Royal Palms apartments, Property Manager Meghann Mahathey said the original plan was for Republic Services to empty the recycling bins once a month.

It took two weeks to fill up the bin the first time and soon Republic was sending trucks every week.

"We end up having to take the top off and have one of the guys stand on it so we can push it down so we have space for a few more days until they come to empty it out," she said.

The 224-unit complex is about two miles from the Strip and mainly caters to casino workers and cab drivers, Mahathey said.

Some apartment seekers have asked about recycling and Mahathey said it simply appeals to people's desire to be "green."

"People are very conscious about saving energy, saving natural resources, reusing," she said. "We want to be able to keep this on our property whether they actually go valleywide with this program or not."

Jeff Pope can be reached at 990-2688 or [email protected].

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