Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2014

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Nevada off to good start on its goal of zero waste

Nov. 15 was America Recycles Day. It’s a national initiative promoting recycling in the United States. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began working with Nevada businesses, state officials and community leaders in 1999, the state’s recycling rate was one of the lowest in the country at just 11 percent — far below the Legislature’s 25 percent goal set in 1991. I am happy to report that by 2012, Nevada surpassed that goal with a 28.8 percent rate.

In Douglas County, the recycling rate is 54.4 percent — the highest in the state. Washoe County isn’t far behind at 33.6 percent. Critical to the state’s success is Clark County; its recycling rate jumped from 8.3 percent in 1999 to 27.5 percent in 2012.

Nevada is not alone — communities around the world are making tremendous progress in keeping waste out of landfills and incinerators through reuse, recycling and composting. The national recycling rate is 34.7 percent. Many communities are now targeting a zero waste future, which maximizes efficiencies in the way we develop, use and dispose of products.

Recycling is very important to our environmental well-being and our economy. Recycling is an unsung hero in boosting our economy nationwide. Recycling 75 percent of the nation’s waste would create nearly 1.5 million jobs by 2030, according to a report by the Tellus Institute with Sound Resource Management. In 2008, 861,000 American jobs were directly associated with recycling, according to the same report.

Reducing waste by 75 percent may sound like an impossible number, but it’s not. The key is to focus on food waste. Did you realize we throw away about 40 percent of the food we buy? Every year, $165 billion worth is thrown away. Wasted food is wasted money. We need to stop feeding landfills. When food rots in landfills, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Food in landfills contributes 20 percent of all U.S. methane emissions.

There are solutions: We can donate food that we can’t use and compost food scraps and green waste. Compost improves soil health, increases drought resistance and reduces, and sometimes even eliminates, the need for supplemental water, fertilizers and pesticides. While municipal composting is just beginning in Nevada, you can get started with backyard composting right away.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge program is working to prevent food waste in Nevada. UNLV, UNR and MGM Resorts International are the first Food Recovery Challenge participants in Nevada, and they are already doing great work to reduce food waste. We encourage more Nevada organizations to join the challenge.

The EPA applauds the work of Nevada’s citizens, the governor’s office, the state Division of Environmental Protection, local governments, and recyclers and composters, for their zero waste leadership. Your actions every day make a difference.

I hope you’ll join me in recycling today and every day.

Jared Blumenfeld is the regional administrator for the U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region.

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