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November 24, 2014

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ENVIRONMENT:

New EcoCentre recycling complex could help planet and economy

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Sam Morris

North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck speaks last week during the announcement of Republic Services’ $10 million recycling plant expansion, which came on the 40th annual Earth Day.

CURBSIDE DEVELOPMENTS

1988 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a goal for communities to recycle 25 percent of their trash by 1992.

1991 - Silver State Disposal Service builds its first recycling facility in Las Vegas and launches curbside recycling pickup in which residents separate glass, newspapers, and plastics and cans into three plastic crates.

1991 - The Legislature sets a goal for Nevada communities to recycle 25 percent of their trash within two years. The goal is later extended to 1996, but still isn’t met.

1997 - Republic Services buys Silver State, keeps the name.

1999 - The Clark County Commission agrees to a controversial waste collection and recycling rate contract with Republic (then still called Silver State) that increases automatically with the consumer price index and grants the company a 10-year contract extension. The contract is later criticized for hampering recycling efforts. Accusations fly that some commissioners, who have since been convicted of taking bribes in an unrelated case, gave the company a sweetheart deal after it made tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

2001 - Clark County clarifies waste collection rules so that other companies can only collect presorted recyclables and limiting the collection of mixed waste to be sorted later to Republic Services. The decisions are criticized by recycling advocates and small recyclers.

2000 - The Environmental Protection Agency increases the national recycling goal to 35 percent by 2005. Nevada — and Clark County in particular — continues to fall far short of the goal.

2002 - An EPA analysis of Southern Nevada’s recycling program finds that contracts with waste collectors impede recycling efforts by making the company unaccountable for meeting recycling goals.

2004 - Republic pulls recycling bins from apartments and other multifamily dwellings because residents were filling them with nonrecyclable trash.

September 2004 - Bob Coyle takes the reins of Republic Services in Southern Nevada.

August 2007 - The Clark County Commission approves a curbside recycling study to include single-bin pilot projects. Las Vegas Valley residents express fear that fewer pickups would mean trash rotting in their garages during Southern Nevada’s hot summers. Residents also aren’t keen on paying higher rates for a program that could bring Republic income from recycled material sales.

January 2008 - Republic Services begins to test single-stream recycling, new recycling pickup schedules and apartment complex recycling.

Jan. 19, 2010 - County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak announce an intergovernmental recycling committee in Southern Nevada, which is to first meet in May. The group’s goal is to improve the recycling rate.

April 22, 2010 - Republic Services announces a major expansion of its recycling operations.

By early 2011, Republic Services should have its massive EcoCentre recycling complex completed in North Las Vegas, and hopes are that the “Eco” part of its name might also stand for “economic development.”

Republic is building a 50,000-square-foot Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified recycling center and completely retooling its existing 80,000-square-foot recycling center into an operation that will straddle Cheyenne Avenue near Commerce Street.

The $25 million project will allow the company to process 15,000 tons of material for recycling each month. Until then, its limit will be 6,000 tons a month. Although the market for recycled materials is only about 60 percent of its peak in 2006, it is improving steadily.

Republic ships all of its recyclables to Southern California for sale, but the increased volume that will come out of the new facility, combined with what’s available from other recycling companies in the area, could entice manufacturers of recycled-content goods, such as carpet manufacturers, to Southern Nevada.

Economic development officials, politicians and recycling companies are hoping that will be the case. Nevada has a business-friendly climate attractive to manufacturers. If the green building and retrofitting trend grows as the recession lifts, the valley would be even more attractive to these types of companies.

“They know if they put a plant here they’ll have a continuous flow of feedstock and more than one supply,” Evergreen Recycling President Rob Dorinson says. “Their economics have to justify the purchase or lease of a warehouse here, but they’re eliminating transportation costs (and) greenhouse-gas emissions, and that could create additional demand for the product.”

This type of economic diversification has occurred in other cities with larger recycling programs, such as Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; and Seattle. It’s begun in Clark County on a smaller scale and looks like it might be gaining momentum.

In Henderson, for example, the architecture firm Realm of Design uses recycled glass from Evergreen to make new stone products such as counter tops and architectural accents, fountains and pillars.

North Las Vegas attracted a major manufacturer of recycled content wallboard, Georgia Pacific, a few years ago after Evergreen began recycling drywall. Georgia Pacific’s business has dropped off some because of the decline in construction, but the plant is still operating.

The company was drawn to Southern Nevada by the ready supply of recyclable waste drywall — in addition to Evergreen, Las Vegas-based Lunas Construction also recycles wall board — and the amount of LEED construction in the region. LEED construction projects, including renovations, get points toward certification for using recycled-content products and for recycling waste from the construction site.

In December, Phoenix Recycling Technologies opened a $5.5 million, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Las Vegas that turns recycled tires into “crumb rubber” for sports fields, horse arenas, landscaping, playgrounds and road paving.

The company is set to turn more than 100,000 local tires into athletic fields at UNLV and asphalt rubber paving materials in Henderson this year.

The plant employs 20 people and is running two shifts a day. It’s also going to help keep tires out of the landfills. Tires are the bane of landfill operators because they tend to pop to the surface and collect water where mosquitoes breed.

Republic Services also has had to contend with tires working their way to the surface of its Apex landfill and barreling down steep hills toward its trucks.

Still, the EcoCentre investment is a departure for a company that has long said it only handles recycling because its client — Clark County — demands it.

“Recycling has never been Republic’s No. 1 priority,” Dorinson says. “They’re a waste management company. They own landfills. I think the fact that they’re joining us in our mission to preserve the world’s resources is indicative of how far the community has come. They’re smart businesspeople and they know that for them to maintain their place in the market, they have to provide the services their customers want — and their customers want recycling.”

More commercial properties are requesting recycling services and residential pilot programs showed people’s recycling increased significantly when they were given a single bin for all their recyclable materials, Republic Vice President Bob Coyle says.

Because of the popularity of the program, Republic wanted to be ready should the county ask that the program be implemented across the valley. That would require its contract with Clark County to be redrawn, which could result in a rate increase, depending on what changes the county requests, Coyle says.

That’s been a sticking point in the past, but a recycling committee made up of elected officials plus five local businesspeople is looking at recycling franchise agreements in each jurisdiction, where they’re at and how do they get to countywide single-bin recycling and wider participation, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani says. The committee is to have its first meeting in the second week of May, she says.

Coyle says Republic needs the EcoCentre even if the county never requests a switch to single-bin recycling because the demand for commercial recycling is expected to continue to increase.

Dorinson agrees that the valley already generates so much potential commercial, industrial and construction recycling that there will be plenty of business for both companies. Republic’s expansion will only make recycling more accessible and popular, he said.

Only 22 percent of Nevada’s waste is recycled. In Southern Nevada that rate drops to 18 percent. If that increases to the national average, about 35 percent, that would translate into hundreds of thousands of tons of material.

“Republic will be out there with Evergreen educating the public,” Dorinson says. “Any time you have outreach to the public and make recycling more convenient, more people become aware of it and want to do it. And it gives customers more options. With Republic in the fight, the customer benefits and it will keep my company on its toes.”

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