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Separate or Single-Stream? Recycling in Las Vegas

Dianna Douglas/NPR

Where does recycling stand in Las Vegas?

Many of us were raised in simpler times. Or, at least we remember it that way.

Take for instance the common everyday act of throwing away trash: Toss garbage in the wastebasket. Once or twice a week wrap up the bag. Put it on the sidewalk in a trash can. Simple.

Over the years or decades, the options for throwing away garbage have multiplied: The separation of bottles and cans; the separation of newspapers and other paper; different kinds of bottles have to be separated. 

It’s gotten complicated. But commingled - also known as single-stream- recycling has arrived in Nevada, although not in all of the Las Vegas valley quite yet.

According Bob Coyle with Republic Services, Henderson, North Las Vegas and 40,000 residents in unincorporated Clark County are all now completely on single-stream recycling.

Single-stream here means each single-family home gets two 96 gallon bins or carts, one for recycling and one for trash. The idea is to make it easier so more people will do it.

Recycling now has gone from about 15 percent of customers putting the old red, white and blue bins out to 90 percent putting out the recycling cart, Coyle said.

The city of Las Vegas is considering the single-stream option. Right now, 20,000 residents in that city are using the system in a pilot program.

However, the single-stream recycling came at a price, according to Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.

When Republic Services started the program, it bumped down trash pick up from two to one day a week.

“I just think people got mad about how their trash was taken away from them under the guise of moving into recycling,” Giunchigliani said. 

She believes people's anger about the change is one of the reasons the total tons of recycling is the same as before the single stream was introduced.

Giunchigliani believes part of the solutions could come from policies by local and state government, like requiring new apartment complexes to build recycling bins, not just trash bins. 

Apartments and other multi-family dwellings are not covered by the agreement between Republic Services and local municipalities. 

Blair Pollock is the solid waste planner for Orange County, North Carolina. The county runs one of the most successful recycling programs in the country.

He said there are several pieces to increasing recycling from a shift in people's attitudes to laws and ordinances that enforce recycling.

“It’s a culture of recycling,” Pollock said.

He also said it took 20 years to get the county's program to where it is now.

For more information:

Nevada Division of Environmental Protection

Blair Pollock, solid waste planner, Orange County, North Carolina; Chris Giunchigliani, commissioner, Clark County Commission;  Bob Coyle, spokesman, Republic Services

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.