Las Vegas recyclables take long journey from curb before reuse

Updated September 3, 2018 - 9:00 pm

Imagine 2 million pounds of rubbish a day traveling along a system that includes 1 1/2 miles of conveyor belts before it ends up ready to be reprocessed for use as a variety of raw materials.

Used plastic containers, glass bottles, metal cans, paper and cardboard are constantly traveling along those belts. That’s after this refuse has been brought by Republic Services’ recycling trucks to its humongous plant in North Las Vegas, to be separated and prepared for reuse.

And now that the last of the new garbage and recycling carts have been delivered by Republic Services to residents of Sun City Summerlin, all of the estimated 535,000 single-family homes in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and most of unincorporated Clark County will have the latest means for recycling those materials.

That consists of two carts for each home, one for garbage and the other for materials that can be recycled.

Indeed, there may well be truth to the adage that one person’s junk — in this case, garbage — is another person’s treasure. Although in this scenario, it’s more like one community’s garbage may be part of the nation’s environmental treasure.

Recyclables are not the kind of trash that’s taken to the dump, which is better known as Apex Regional Landfill, located some 25 miles north of Las Vegas. Instead, these are materials that can be returned to their original, raw form, items that after being separated at Republic’s Southern Nevada Recycling Center can be shipped to other facilities to be recycled into usable resources.

As we viewed the process at the $40 million, 110,000-square-foot plant, Jeremy Walters, Republic’s community relations manager, explained that it takes just 2 1/2 minutes for items to travel the entire mile and a half of conveyor belts and machinery before they’re pure enough to be shipped for recycling.

“Along the way, we have employees who inspect and remove nonrecyclable trash,” he said. “They carefully inspect every item on the conveyors. Everything must be at least 99.5 percent pure before it can be sent out for recycling. Otherwise it goes back to entry.”

“Anheuser-Busch Brewery (in St. Louis) takes all of our aluminum. Depending on the markets, other companies will take our glass, plastics, paper and cardboard,” Walters continued. These companies convert recyclables back to raw materials.

Observing the process is both awesome and educational. Walters and his staff lead tours for groups that range from schoolchildren to seniors, and he urged parties interested in observing the process to punch into for further information.

Steven De Stefano, Republic’s project manager, said his company has about 150 employees who work in shifts 24/7.

“In 2006 we first began to survey residents who we serviced in Southern Nevada, and we found that only about 10 percent recycled their trash,” De Stefano said. “That was a far cry from the 70 percent or so we found among homeowners in California, for example, who had been recycling their refuse for far longer.

“Now, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the homes we service in Southern Nevada are into recycling,” he added. By comparison, Walters noted that residents in California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado “have been recycling for generations.”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. Contact him at

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