Clark County commissioners on Tuesday approved moving forward with changes to trash and recycling pickups but left open the potential for another showdown over the issue in the next few months.
The board, in a 4-2 vote, changed the county code to allow for trash and recycling pickups on a weekly basis in unincorporated Clark County – a decrease in trash pickup but an increase in recycling.
But commissioners didn’t approve an agreement with Republic Services, the private trash company, on the new program. They want to first carry out a couple of studies and add a clause to the agreement that would allow the county to back out of the “single-stream” recycling program if it doesn’t work out.
If Republic Services agrees to those conditions, then commissioners will have a chance to vote, take public comment and approve the issue in the next few weeks or months.
It would be months or years before residents of unincorporated Clark County saw any changes – Republic Services officials said they need to spend $150 million on new bins, trucks and infrastructure to roll out the system countywide. The company has until 2017 to carry it out.
But Tuesday’s vote was a significant step toward the changes, which came after years of debate over the subject and hours of public comment.
“This is a win-win situation,” Commissioner Larry Brown said.
Under the new ordinance, the familiar red, blue and white bins for recyclables will be replaced with one bin of either 35, 65 or 95 gallons. Residents will no longer have to sort their paper, glass, aluminum and plastic. The company also will deliver a trash bin in the same sizes. Extra bins will be provided free.
The program applies only to residential curbside pickups; apartments and businesses are not affected. Service fees will not change.
Studies, and anecdotal statements from residents and Republic Services workers, show that the program drastically increases Las Vegans’ dismal recycling rate, from barely more than 4 percent to as high as 25 percent.
Despite the positive reviews the program has been getting from people in pilot projects across the county and in Las Vegas, commissioners on Tuesday listened to hours of comments from Republic Services employees worried about cuts to their work hours and from residents who want to keep twice-weekly trash pickup.
“We 100 percent support recycling, but not at the cost of our members’ jobs,” said Tommy Blitsch, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 631, which represents Republic Services employees.
The union’s contract with Republic Services prohibits the company from having layoffs, but it doesn’t guarantee that every employee gets 40 hours of work per week.
Many workers said Tuesday that they’re already seeing cuts to worker hours.
Officials in North Las Vegas and Henderson already have negotiated separate contracts with Republic Services to adopt the single-stream program, which requires only one person to operate a truck.
The current system requires two people to a truck.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who was the most vocal commissioner against the change, said she couldn’t support the change if it hurt workers.
“In this community, we have very few jobs,” she said. “I want it to work, but not at the expense of jobs right now.”
Several other people cited concerns about having space for the bins in their garages and the potential for smells during the summer.
Most other big cities, including ones hotter than Las Vegas, such as Phoenix, have weekly trash pickup. And residents under the pilot program have given it high marks.
One of those people is Commissioner Susan Brager, who said she was adamantly opposed to it when her neighborhood went under the pilot program.
“I didn’t want it. I was very vocal,” she said. “(But) it absolutely does work.”
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said that because the new recycling program is so convenient, she is recycling more and throwing away less.
“I have probably half as much garbage,” Scow said.
Before commissioners approve a renegotiated contract with Republic Services, they want to do two studies – an audit on the economic impact of switching back to twice-weekly pickups and a survey of people in the valley who are now under the single-stream program. The last survey was done in 2010.
Much of Tuesday’s debate revolved around whether residents should see a rate decrease from the change.
Bob Coyle, vice president of government affairs for Republic Services, said the company will still be making five trips to each home per week and will be spending millions to carry out the program.
It will save money through fewer workers’ compensation claims – arms on the trucks, not on the workers, will lift the new bins – and will earn money through processing and selling the increased recycling.
The fifth trip every two weeks is to pick up items that won’t fit in the trash bins.
“From a customer standpoint, this program is about ease, convenience and effectiveness,” Coyle said. “From an employee standpoint, this is about safety.”
Tuesday’s decision does not affect residents outside unincorporated Clark County.
All North Las Vegas residents already are on the new program. Most Henderson residents are, too, with the rest being covered by the end of the year.
It is unclear when City of Las Vegas officials will take up the idea.
Commissioner Tom Collins did not vote. He left before the vote was taken.
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781.