Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series about several recycling efforts in the area, from companies who collect recyclables to local residents who used recyclable materials in creative ways. However it all starts with residents doing their part, understanding what is considered recyclable and what isn’t — and that’s where this series begins.
BULLHEAD CITY — The smallest measures can have the biggest impact when it comes to recycling, if significant reductions in waste ending up in landfills are any indication.
But sometimes the smallest of items also can create the biggest of problems.
Many people think if it’s paper or plastic, it is recyclable, but surprisingly that is not necessarily true. It all hinges on what kind of paper and what kind of plastic.
Jeremy Walters, with Republic Services Media Relations and community relations manager in Las Vegas, said people make common mistakes when it comes to recycling so educating the public about the differences has become a priority of the company — and it all starts curb-side.
“We do take the metal food and beverage containers, the cardboard, the paper, glass bottles and jars and then plastics,” he explained. “We try to educate folks around some key words and that is, plastic bottles and jugs, you can even throw tubs in there if you really wanted to.
“So getting people to focus more on the characteristic — being a rigid plastic container — and not grocery bags, or produce bags, is crucial,” he added.
“Everyone shops on Amazon nowadays. We’ve all seen those crazy air-filled pillow packs and things they stuff inside the box for one tiny little item. Those things are actually the biggest problem that we have, the flexible plastics.
“With packaging, one of those things folks don’t realize, is that it’s not as simple as just sorting out the bad stuff and sorting through the good stuff,” he said.
“I deal with folks a lot and one of the biggest misconceptions is that it doesn’t really matter what you throw in your bin, ‘because we sort through it no matter what.’ Or I’ve even heard, ‘oh, I throw stuff in there and it just makes sure people have more work to do and gives them overtime or keeps their job security,’ ” he said with a laugh. “That’s not how it works. Throwing the wrong things in can do more harm than good and those flexible plastics are the biggest issue we have because they have a tendency to wrap and tangle around the sorting equipment. They create inefficiencies and they jam the machinery altogether. So it’s really important folks learn what they can and cannot throw in the bin.
“I know it’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re the consumer and you’ve got something in your hand you feel like it should be recyclable but at the end of the day, if no one can take it beyond what we do at the recycling center, then it truly can’t be recycled, and that’s the challenge.”
Cardboard boxes are recyclable; however, greasy pizza boxes are not. Clean plastic containers are recyclable, but those same containers with food or liquids are not. Walters said Republic Services understands the confusion and has taken measures to help customers understand the differences.
“People who really want to do it right, they take time to get educated on it, and that’s why we launched some of our items like ‘Recycling Simplified,’ a page you can check out on our website,” Walters said. “That’s why we’re trying to launch campaigns like that, to help people understand — and helping them understand helps us back up the process to make sure all the right things get recycled.
“If you’re the ‘wishful’ recycler throwing things in there, hoping things will be recycled, you don’t understand the collateral damage that can happen,” he explained. “If you throw in, let’s say, a bunch of catsup bottles that still have catsup in them, and that catsup spills out, it ruins the paper and cardboard it gets on and that once good recyclable item is now a landfill item because we can’t recycle it.”
The good news is that recycling is making an impact and Bullhead City and Laughlin residents have a lot to do with that because of their proactive efforts.
“Ultimately, we end up with the material here out in Vegas regardless if it’s Laughlin or Bullhead, to process,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot more what we would call diversion, which means that’s keeping material out the landfills. In Southern Nevada, Laughlin has their own little landfill, but we have a really big landfill out here in Vegas, and we’ve basically over-doubled the capacity of the landfill space when we implemented ‘Single Stream,’ (one bin instead of a three-crate system to separate plastics, paper and aluminum) so we’re definitely saving a lot more material from going to the landfill.
“But the big thing to remember, is that contamination factor,” he said. “Single stream recycling makes it very easy for folks to just toss all their recyclables into one bin, but it also makes it a little bit easier to be careless. That’s why we’ve really got to be sure we throw the right things in there and throw them in there the right way, because we don’t want to ruin all the good recyclables.
“If you’re the superstar recycler in your neighborhood and your neighbors kind of throw anything they want in there, they’re taking away from all your efforts, and so we want to avoid that.”
Walters said when Vegas changed from the three-crate system to the single stream system, the amount collected was significant.
“When we went to single stream, we saw about a 400% increase in participation alone. We had a three-crate system and they were these hand-pickup milk crates and they were for the different recyclables. You had to separate them at the curb and it was picked up every other week,” he said. “When we implemented the single stream system, which is what you guys have in Bullhead and it’s what we all have here in Southern Nevada and in Laughlin, that’s when people started recycling so much more. It’s because you’ve got this big 95-
gallon toter, you can put all your recyclables in there and you can wheel it out to the curb. So because of that more people are recycling.”
While some other big cities are making changes to their recycling programs to exclude plastics altogether, Walters said Republic Services’ doesn’t anticipate those kinds of changes in the future.
“If residents follow what we’re trying to promote right now, the fundamental single stream, you’re going to be able to recycle no matter what happens to the markets around the world — the paper, the cardboard, the metal food and beverage containers, the plastic bottles and jugs, and we’re in a place where we can take glass,” he said. “Anything aside from that, I would encourage people to leave it out of the recycling can.
“If people really want to be sustainable, and, let’s say, you’ve got something interesting you think might be recyclable, there’s a great website called earth911.com. You can type in specific information — for instance, ‘I want to recycle my laptop,’ and it will tell you all the different outlets for you to be able to recycle that,” he said. “Certain things like electronics, are very costly to recycle, so you may have to pay to send that through a recycling program, but if you’re that eco-conscientious person and you want to do those things, and you don’t mind the cost, earth911.com is a really good website.”
The more we recycle, the more we save, Walters added.
“It’s simple conservation and it makes our resources last longer and go farther,” he said. “Recycling is efficient and practical, and it gives us maximum use of the resources our planet provides us, without having to extract fresh material from the earth every time we want to make something.
“Recycling also saves energy. Did you know, for example, that when manufacturers use recycled materials to make products, they use significantly less energy than when they use raw materials?” he asked. “Likewise, producing recyclable materials ready for manufacturing requires far less energy than extracting, refining, transporting and processing raw materials through mining and forestry.
“Instead of loading up the earth with waste, junk and garbage, recycling helps keep the environment clean, safe and healthy. That is what we’re committed to doing here at Republic Services,” he said. “After all, we work for Earth.”