Las Vegas, Recycling Is the Change

cigarette buttsPhoto by Gerald Thurman
Simple message: Pick ’em up!

As a real estate broker, I spend a lot of time with clients driving around in my car. On more than one occasion some clueless client, unaware of my passion for recycling, has thrown a cigarette or a plastic bottle out the window. Immediate reprisal! Without delay, I pull over to the side of the road, eyeball my passenger, and ask him to retrieve the trash.

Actually, I would love to lay down some rubber and leave the offender holding his discarded water bottle at the curb. Instead, I have made a commitment to start laying down this law wherever I go: Don’t trash Nevada!

I don’t want to see trash on the side of the road. I don’t want to see piles of cigarette butts neatly hidden under innocent plants. I don’t accept the arrogance of people – residents or tourists – who think it’s OK to trash my community, Las Vegas!

Picking up butts, glass and cans is not my job. It is, however, an opportunity for me to address the actions of those who don’t seem to care about our Mohave Desert. Come on, people! It’s 2009 and life here in Las Vegas is changing. The bling-bling isn’t happening anymore – no more big rings and Hummers. We are all retooling our lives and building a new economy. Maybe now we can grow a higher consciousness, too. Maybe we can recycle into a more thoughtful, less wasteful city. Imagine the New Las Vegas: The Luxor light replaced by inner illumination.

RecycleiStockPhoto/Daniel Grill

We all need to participate in simple ways to make our community better, more balanced and friendlier. For my part, I have made a commitment to:

1. Recycle more conscientiously.
2. Encourage others to start recycling.
3. Ask people to be more responsible with their trash habits.

This is not an intellectual conversation. I just want you to reprogram your brain. Take simple action. When you finish drinking a bottle of water, walk to the nearest recycling bin and toss it in! Cha-ching! Every time you discard a piece of paper, a plastic container, a glass jar or aluminum can, go to the pantry or designated recycle bin and toss it in. Action completed! At the end of the week, when you move the items to their final curbside destination, you will discover something amazing: You will find that 70 percent of your trash is recyclable; only 30 percent is plain old garbage.

Speaking of community changes, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has floated a proposal to replace the small red, white and blue recycle bins with a single, larger bin for all recyclables. The resulting “single-stream” recycling service would use trucks equipped with a hydraulic arm to lift and dump the special containers – trucks that might also cut labor costs and worker injury rates. This system has been used successfully for our heavy garbage collection and can be as effective for our recycling pickup. If Las Vegas gets on board, we can have one garbage and one recycling pickup once a week. That’s if we all organize our trash, which gets us back to the “retrain your brain” concept: Take the right action every time you discard something, and – cha-ching!

Surveys show that 95 percent of Americans believe in preserving the environment. Yet how many of us put a process into place for recycling? I’m not talking about those recycle bins sitting empty in your garage. I’m talking about an active process of change when you throw things away. Set up a location for a recycle bag or bin in the kitchen, by the back door, or in the garage. Place all your recyclables in there. The garbage can in the kitchen should receive only garbage, i.e., nonrecyclable waste.

Simple, right? Yet, in Las Vegas, surveys show that only 2 percent of households recycle. The Nevada Legislature set a recycling target of 25 percent back in 1991. That hasn’t happened. We still have our heads buried in the plastic bottles and beer cans. This is simply not acceptable for a global destination of fun, frolic and desert beauty. Besides, other cities are making us look bad. According to Steve Ross, who discussed household recycling in a recent KNPR commentary, the recycling rate is 20 percent in Phoenix, 21 percent in Tucson, and 53 percent in Seattle. We all envision Las Vegas as a unique city of the future. Hip sustainable architecture, trendy restaurants and clubs are fine, but “We the People” still have to make the commitment to recycle at home. We need to support progressive thinking in our own city.

Land filliStockPhoto/Ben Blankenburg
Huge landfulls are not a solution

Recycling materials is a practice for the future. Even now, recycled plastic, glass, paper and aluminum are remodeled into an amazing range of new products. Milk jugs can become park benches; peanut butter jars can become hiking shoes and sweatshirts. A medicine bottle can become a landscape border. At the Las Vegas Springs Preserve sustainable products and building materials are incorporated into the campus; in fact, the Springs Preserve Desert Living Center was certified Platinum Green by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program of the U.S. Green Building Council in June 2008. The rammed earth walls, solar array panels, passive cooling and renewable heating are combined with, yes, recycled materials – minimizing new resource demand. Recycled products will create resources for our future and an industry whose time has come. Cha-ching!

Our choice today? Either fill huge landfills in Apex or focus on recycling materials for future household products. This is not a difficult choice. It just requires a commitment and desire to lead Las Vegas into a sustainable future.

The bottle is in your hand. Make the choice to recycle it.


9 responses on “Las Vegas, Recycling Is the Change

  1. You rock! I love that you reprimanded your client for his crazy behaviour. AWESOME. And that you wrote this article.

    In my Summerlin community we have a trial run of the big onesy recycle bin rather than the three-tiered red, white, and blue ones. It was strange at first not to separate, but it actually makes everything easier once I got over my anal separation mode : ).

    Another thing to note is that while recycling rocks, we should all try to reduce our use of things that require recycling. For example, I’m old school and use tap water (gulp) which means no water bottles to recycle. Also, I love peanut butter and have started buying the natural variety in a glass jar (instead of plastic) — and I’m reusing the glass jar for myself (lots of great ways to use it!). So that reduces the whole cycle — recycling is great, but reusing or reducing the consumption of things that need to go into the cycle is even better since even recycling takes energy and resources and thus has an impact on the environment (although, obviously it is way better than people trashing the streets or throwing all their rubbish directly into their garbage bin).

    I still have lots of room for improvement, but even if everyone made some little changes, I think the progress in Las Vegas would be amazing.

  2. By the way — about the water bottles, I’m hearing a lot of reports lately that analyses of the water in them has just as many contaminants as water found in the faucet. Plus some of the plastic may leech into the water (e.g., if the bottle is left in heat – easy to during the Summer).

    Have you heard that? Maybe that will decrease the desire to purchase bottled H2O in the first place.

  3. A bigger problem with the plastic water bottles is that don’t degrade and with most of them ending up in landfills, they represent a serious hazard over time. Tap water? Sorry, I can’t go that far, not with this tap water. We use a water filter — which helps a lot.


  4. Mark: I agree – that’s the point – water bottles (or any container – e.g., milk) are not good for the environment, especially when they are thrown into the trash (which, as you said, go into the landfill and never degrade, etc.) That’s why I support recycling.

    But even recycling, takes resources, so it’s better to go closer to the source and eliminate as much packaging as possible. That’s why I prefer tap water, filtered of course. But I’m sure not all restaurants are filtering the water when I request tap water.

    Also, when I was really young my family did not filter our tap water at home, so I’m used to drinking it as is. And there are studies showing the same concentration of chemicals, etc. in a sample of tap water versus a sample of bottled water (several brands), so even if someone chooses to not filter their tap water, it sounds like they aren’t missing out on better water quality with the majority of bottled varieties. Plus, I’ve heard than certain brands of bottled water actually come straight from the tap of some major metro areas (e.g. Houston, Philadelphia).

  5. Great article, Ellen and I’m with you on making casual polluters responsible for their careless actions whenever I catch them too!

    However, in every city I’ve ever lived, curbside recycling programs have always been reported to work most efficiently when the recyclables are SEPARATED in the home. Therefore, I hope Clark County continues with it’s blue, red and white bins.

    Re: the Bottle Water vs. Tap Water debate, concerned readers should look at this recent article <> from Reader’s Digest last year.

    The bottom line? Bottled water, along with the plastic used for all those water bottles, is not nearly as regulated as municipal water.

    So everyone should put a charcoal filter on their spigot(s) at home and buy themselves a canteen or two. They’ll be shocked at all the extra cash in their wallets and how much less often they have to hunt for a trash can!

  6. I was happy to stumble upon this article about recycling. My husband and I just moved here from CA and are really disappointed with the recycling here. I am trying to find a place that takes all (if not more) plastics besides #s 1 and 2 (since Republic Services only takes those 2 types). Do you happen to know? Oh, and interestingly Men’s Health magazine just put out an article which states that out of 100 cities Las Vegas ranks 99 for recycling (1 being the best). So 1 away from being the worst city! So sad. I’m hoping to help change that.

  7. Deanna,

    You are right only 1&2 plastics are recycled with Republic Services.
    I don’t have a source for other plastics right now. Las vegas certainly does have to take recyclying more seriously, like now !!!


  8. Yes. We’re new transplants from Seattle (for health reasons – dry + heat equals better healing for some nerve and muscle conditions – PLUS we just LOVE the desert!). But the lack of environmental concern here is darn near appauling. Seattle was mentioned above and we had no idea just how progressive it was – though we felt good how the city and its citizens came to DEMAND that recycling grow into an all-out effort. At first – years ago, we too had to “take our recycleables” to some place. Then came the bins- free from the city, and that increased the participants. The business community also started sitting up and taking notice when it became apparant you can SAVE LOTS of money by becoming a zero-waste facility (I claim to be among the early-most to have reducedthe waste of the manufacturing company I worked for as operations VP – to less than 1% (- which – for a manufacturer – is nearly unheard of – especially 15 years ago!) . It only took a little creativity and some small incentives to employees to make it a FUN and even competitive venture – while at the same time saving the bottom line nearly 10%!) But what I mostly wanted to say here is that we have to find the WILL and demonstrate and get the business community and political WILL to MAKE it happen. If the Strip and public leaders could SEE how the civil responsibility of recycling added to the revenue stream and not believe the status quo redicules argument that it “costs too much” when in reality it is economic suicide now to turn your back on a money making revenue stream. And incidentally, it also adversely affects the thousands who come here and stay on the Strip and then go looking for the recycle bin for their can and suddenly realize there is a seeming vacume here of understanding just how critical, generative, cost saving and dare I say PR-Positive it is/would be to be a city who could be demonstrating itself as a forefront LEADER to the WORLD that comes here to visit! I feel the bottomline is that you always have to demonstrate the myriad of ways that this relatively small effort in practices and programs of recycling, re-use and reduction in waste produces HUGE dividends that can galvanize a city right now. BUT it is THIS MOMENT – not tomorrow. Tomorrow LV will only be a dead last looser or a sad example of people who didn’t wake up soon enough. NOW we could become a LEADER, and win the adoration and pique the interest of the world in how a “fun-land” can be green and generaticve – so you can also feel good about how you and where you play! And if there’s any city in the world that really CAN afford it – it’s LV. [One final note. The bigger benefit to the onesy bins is that many more people begin to participarte. It starts becoming a redicules argument that to throw one thing in one barrel vs another is a pain. I know – I started as a complainer 20 years ago. Now it utterly PAINS me to throw away something that is recycleable here. I live in an apartment that does not yet participate in a recyle program (if there is one here for Apartments). But I think I will go talk to them tomorrow about this. Much more to say, but will hold it here. Thanks for the article and discussion!

  9. Sebastian,

    Thanks for your enthusiasm. Please have your apartment complex contact Republic Services to set up a few recycling bins for thoses who want to set a good example. Ttaking action and participating are key here in Las Vegas.


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