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Should we be high-fiving about Nevada’s recycling rate?

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Have you called the recycling hotline lately?
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By 2020, California hopes to recycle 75 percent of its waste, building on its current rate of about 50 percent. Meanwhile, Nevada’s just-announced 28.8 percent rate (based on 2012 numbers) is a “record high.” Considering it took 20 years to reach the state-mandated goal of 25 percent set in 1991, we weren't sure if we should be high-fiving. So we tapped the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection for help sorting through (ha!) its latest Recycling and Waste Reduction Report. Answers to our burning questions came courtesy of JoAnn Kittrell, public information manager for the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.

The 25 percent goal was set in 1991 and met in 2011. What took Nevada so long to get there? It has been known by public officials and citizens alike that Nevada, like other rural, Western states, represents a unique challenge when it comes to recycling implementation. Infrastructure was needed to facilitate more recycling, making it more convenient for residents, businesses and visitors to recycle many items that were previously sent to landfills. Also, the demand for recyclable materials has increased, creating an increase in recycling centers, especially in the Las Vegas area.

Given that counties with 100,000 or more people must provide curbside recycling, why is it that not all neighborhoods have free service? Yes, by statute, counties with 100,000 or more people are required to provide curbside recycling, and this is accomplished through franchise agreements. Rates vary by franchise agreements, as negotiated by the local jurisdiction for services provided. NDEP has no regulatory authority in regard to franchise agreements and rates.

After a successful pilot program, Henderson and North Vegas are adopting permanent single-stream—meaning everything in one can—systems, which have been shown to greatly increase participation. Is there a plan to adopt it Valley-wide? Clark County and the City of Las Vegas are in the process of negotiating a franchise agreement to provide single-stream recycling. Once all jurisdictions approve and roll out single-stream recycling, it will be Valley-wide.

Funding to support such mandated recycling comes from a $1 surcharge on new vehicle tires. Can you explain how that works? For each tire sold the dealer keeps $0.05 of the fee for administrative costs and remits, on a monthly basis, $0.95 of the fee to the Department of Taxation for distribution. Tire fee revenue may only be used for the purposes of carrying out the statutes related to solid waste management, as prescribed in NRS 444.616. The statute allocates revenue to state and local regulatory agencies according to the following distribution formula:

44.5 percent to the DCNR, Division of Environmental Protection

30 percent to the Southern Nevada Health District

25 percent to the Washoe County District Health Department

0.5 percent to the Department of Taxation

Scrap metal accounts for more than half of what is recycled in Nevada. Is that due mostly to the industrial sector? Both citizens and industrial entities are contributing to scrap metal recycling. Metals are a commodity with relatively high value, and the opportunity for payment from a recycler provides additional incentive for citizens to recycle. Appliances, automobiles and other metal-based items can be recycled by residents, though typically not through curbside recycling programs, such as with aluminum cans. These types of items contribute greatly to scrap metal totals.

On the NDEP’s new GIS map, it appears such materials as Styrofoam and mattresses can be recycled. Really? While Styrofoam and mattress parts are not 100 percent recyclable, they can be reused, reducing the demand for raw materials.

Many factors affect recycling rates county to county, but are there any general things you can say about some producing much better numbers? The recycling rates vary in each county due to the varying availability of recycling in the counties. More populous counties have greater access to recycling and also different regulations regarding the availability of recycling services. The cost of recycling is higher in rural counties like Elko, which explains its lower number. Douglas County’s high recycling rate is attributed to large amounts of recycled organic material. Clark County’s rate increase is largely attributed to new single-stream activity in Henderson and North Las Vegas.

How does Nevada compare to other states in the region when it comes to waste management? Nevada is comparable to other Western states with similar geographic distance challenges and regulating. Other Western states and municipalities have stricter laws regulating recycling and offer additional recycling opportunities such as curbside compost collection, a service not yet available in Nevada.

Any tips on what the average Las Vegan can do to boost environmental protection through recycling? Southern Nevadans should consider recycling more than just what they can place in their curbside recycling. Using our GIS map, residents can find recycling centers for various other products including e-waste, or electronic waste. They can also call the recycling hotline at 1-800-597-5865 for more information about where to take recyclable materials. Residents without access to curbside recycling may take their recycling to the various available recycling centers. We also encourage residents to recycle at work, if possible.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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