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January 26, 2015

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


Leila Navidi

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


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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  1. Las Vegas IS spoiled with the twice a week year round trash pick up. Single stream encourages MORE recycling consistantly, and eventually the once a week pick up would work just fine, with the exceptions of the HOT weather months.

    Let's face it, Republic just about has a monopoly on trash pick up throughout the United States of America. They have a very sweet deal. Republic needs to be more flexible, or just maybe another vendor can take over the trash business.

    Most schools have single stream commercial bins, and that is working as well. As citizens we all can do our part to minimize our footprint environmentally.

  2. Forget this idea our community forces and mandates garbage cans have to be kept in the garage it's tough enough doing this for a couple of days one week would be intolerable . We have 1700 homes in our community and the homeowners would not comply with this effort.

  3. I was against the "once a week" trash collection but after over a year in this new program, I found out that it was much better and our neighborhood looks much cleaner because we only see the trash once a week. The new containers are a lot bigger than what I had and most of the time I don't even fill up both containers on trash days. I can sympathize with those doubters but I'm pretty sure that they will love the new program once they try it. There are four adults and two babies in our household and we found out that the new trash containers are more than enough for our needs.

  4. Do these numbers reflect that fact that scavengers come and take the recyclables? How many empty bins did they count?

  5. Have been using the new bins for over a year and I prefer it over the older method. I had misgivings at first with once a week pickup but don't miss it at all. All the complaints I read now were the same ones I saw last year when it was started in our neighborhood.

    A big plus is the bins are heavy so they don't get knocked over during windy days. I don't know how many times I came home from work just to dodge trash cans that were blown all over the place.

    I also like the fact that you only see trash cans out on the curb once a week. Looks nice (for a trash can anyways) to have some uniformity on the sidewalk.

  6. Love the new bins. Love not having to separate my recycling. Love having to only take bins to street only once a week. Didn't have smelly garbage or bugs in the summer. (The smelly stuff was in sealed plastic bags direct from the kitchen and I sprayed the cans every week or two for bugs, no problem.) Great program.

  7. Frankly, there is no excuse for not recycling, even if you have to sort the materials. Make an effort, for god sake. The single-stream bins work great. Republic will give you two recycle bins and two garbage bins if you ask.

  8. Our community enjoys the once-a-week schedule with the larger bins. Kudos to Republic for a system that works well. There's also something in it for Republic: One man can collect all the trash and never leave the truck cab. The results? Personnel savings and fewer on-the-job injury claims. A win-win, for sure.

  9. I like that the smart people pick through the trash cans on the sidewalks, so they can feed their families with the money they get from the recycled goods. The Current trash company is a scam, if they wanted to really recycle, they would of make it profitable & had centers regular people could turn in their bottles and cans.

  10. Garbage in, garbage out. The Sun needs to check its reporting before printing an article, in this case the multiple mentions that recyclables must be sorted into the current bins provided by Republic Services. There is no truth to this now or in the past 5 or more years. Increasing recycling isn't as much as about the container as it is about education. Education of the population both about the need to recycle and education levels in general. I'm all for using the new 96 gallon recycling containers. All Republic needs to do is give us one for free and keep the existing contract in place. They will make a very significant amount of money just off of all the recycled metals they collect and by reducing their number of trips from 5 to 4 every two weeks. Then with the new containers they can cut manpower by from one to two on the truck by using automation. With garbage pickups cut from two to one every week they will also reduce the number of trips to the dump. Under their new plan Republic benefits 9 ways from Sunday and the consumer not only gets short changed they get to pick up the entire tab for saving and making Republic more money. Wow, is this a great county or what!