Washington County is recycling again. Here's what you need to do to be a better recycler

RecyclingMonster - After four months of Washington County recyclables being dumped in the landfill, the Washington County Solid Waste District started shipping off recyclables on Thursday to the Republic Services processing plant just outside of Las Vegas.

Recyclables in the county haven’t been recycled since early July. That delay stems from a contractual dispute between WCSW and Rocky Mountain Recycling, which used to process the recyclables for the county. Rocky Mountain raised rates multiple times for processing, and this summer WCSW refused a rate hike to $78. Rocky Mountain claimed force majeure on the contract in June.

Once the county worked out a contract with Republic, a transload station needed to be built at the landfill to transfer the county's recycling to bigger trucks that are now being driven to Vegas.

Now, the county’s recycling is being picked up and processed by Republic (Republic has been picking up recycling since Washington County started curbside recycling in 2016). Republic is charging $128 per ton, and the WCSW district is taking on the additional cost.

“Unfortunately, the cost isn’t ideal,” Neil Schwendiman. “But the good thing is the material is going to be sorted better, it’s going to be handled better. I think it’s going to be a cleaner material to go to the market. And the key is they’re not going to be bringing any material to our landfill.”

The Vegas plant is a high-tech 110,00 square-foot facility that doesn’t rely on people to sort materials by hand. There are several machines that comb through the cardboard, metals and plastics — all in around three-and-a-half minutes.

This doesn’t mean residents can be lax in recycling habits, though. Members of the WCSW and The Spectrum toured the plant in September, learning about how the plant works, and what kinds of materials can cause major problems.

Now that your recycling is being recycled, how can you be more efficient? Republic Services has published videos and information about recycling, but here are a few quick things you need to know.

Common mistakes

he most common thing people try to recycle (but ends up clogging machines which takes time to be untangled) is grocery bags and other flexible plastics, according to Southern Nevada Republic community relations manager, Jeremy Walters.

Even though many grocery bags have recycling signs printed on them, they aren’t recyclable at this plant. (Some grocery stores collect the bags.) It’s best to put recyclables straight into the BluCan, not bagged up in flexible plastics

But Republic also has issues with odd items that are thrown in.

“We have people throw toys, shoes, bowling balls, thinking we’re going to take it to Goodwill, but that’s not the case,” Walters said. “If it’s not on that picture [on top of the bin], it doesn’t go in there.”

Empty. Clean. Dry.

That’s the motto for Republic Services. Chances are a lot higher that your recycling will actually get recycled when you follow those steps, according to Walters. Even the hard-to-clean peanut butter at the bottom of the jar needs to be washed out. If not, Walters said, it can ruin a whole load of recyclables sent to the plant.

“As a company we promote empty, clean, dry. It’s not because we try to be difficult, it’s not because we’re trying to make more money on it. It’s because with single-stream recycling, there is the potential for your pasta sauce jar, or ketchup bottle or whatever it is to spill out and ruin the other stuff – like paper and cardboard,” Walters said.

Walters said around 30% of materials sent to the plant end up going to the Vegas landfill because of contamination. That could be things that end up in there that shouldn’t or contaminated recyclables that get ruined because of food, water, oil, etc.

And even though it’s not going to the Washington County’s landfill, Schwendiman that’s no excuse to be lazy. It ends up costing the county a lot more because they’re still paying $128 a ton to send it to Vegas.

What to do with glass

Glass can be recycled at Republic Services, but it is much better for it to not be, according to Walters. People often throw out glass in the BluCan, which the top of the can says not to do. Schwendiman said people who wish to recycle glass should separate it out and drop it off at one of the county’s binnies.

“We still don’t want it in the curbside material … it actually gets recycled better when we collect it in the binnies,” Schwendiman. “If we just added the glass in it would increase our weight that we would have to pay and increase our cost.”

For now, glass recycling collected in binnies is being taken to Salt Lake City to be processed, but Schwendiman said there are other options the county is looking into.

Where does everything else go?

Aluminum is actually one of the best recyclable materials now. It’s something that can be recycled infinitely without losing quality. The aluminum collected at Republic Services’ plant in Las Vegas ends up going to Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri.

Plastics from the plant end up going to a plant in California. All other fibers — newspaper, mixed paper and cardboard — are moved from Vegas to Long Beach, then on to Indonesia or other international markets to be manufactured.

Each day, there are enough baled recyclables — each bale weighs around 1,400 pounds — to measure twice the height of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, according to Walters.

Opt-out? No way... For now

Until the contract ends with Republic in February 2021, there will be no discussion of opening up the recycling program to allow residents to opt out of the service, according to Schwendiman.

However, with around 14 months left on their contract with Republic, the WCSW district is already looking into what programs and options will be best for the future of curbside recycling in the area.

“I know there’s people out there that really love recycling, and if they do that’s great,” Schwendiman said. “If people truly don’t want to recycle that’s fine, put everything in your garbage can — we’re not going to be the recycling police unless people want to continue putting bad things in their recycling can.”

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