Recycling for Freedom

One 36-gallon container has the same footprint as three recycling bins.I am so excited! Finally, after what seems like an eternity, my community (Sun City Anthem in Henderson) will have an opportunity to participate in a new program that really makes a difference. Every homeowner in our area will benefit and the results promise to be spectacular. It will make lives easier, improve the community and help strengthen our country. It won’t add a dime to the monthly budget. I’m talking about Republic Services’ “Enhanced Recycling & Clean Community Effort Program.” They have worked with the city to improve their services as well as the convenience factor.

The City of Henderson has made a strong commitment to the concept of sustainability in an effort to responsibly improve the quality of life for current and future residents. They have created a Sustainability Action Plan. The plan contains some very wise guiding principles including: enhancing the environment through responsible stewardship; leadership by example; awareness and participation; recognizing the interdependence of the environment and economy; and acknowledging that local actions have regional, national and global implications.

A key goal of the plan is enhanced recycling, one of the smartest and easiest things we can do to make a difference. This simple activity incorporates every aspect of the guiding principles and provides a way for each of us to proudly participate. Our current recycling rate is abysmal, well under 10%, and way below the goals set by both the Nevada legislature and the Environmental Protection Agency. By contrast, San Francisco’s recycling rate exceeds 70%.

Bales of recycled plastic reduce our need for foreign oil.Recycling isn’t new by the way. (Here is a short essay on Recycling in Colonial America that you might find interesting.) In fact, in terms of the historic record, it is the absence of recycling that is relatively new, and by every meaningful measure, extremely foolish. The very essence of life depends on the constant recycling of air, water, soil, minerals, bacteria, plants and animals in the delicate, beautiful and completely interwoven tapestry of nature. There is no “waste” in nature. Likewise, there should be no waste in our culture, be it organic or industrial. In the words of William McDonough, an architect and well-respected expert on sustainable design, “We must eliminate the concept of waste.”

Granted, we can do much better on the design side of the equation by making products that last longer and that become “food” for the next phase of their journey through the natural or industrial ecosystem. However, as homeowners, we have an opportunity to responsibly deal with the daily stream of materials as it passes through our homes and lives. Republic Services is doing their part. I have personally toured their recycling facility. I’ve seen the efficiency of the operation, the jobs it creates and the results: an average of 300 tons per day of useful materials that will not be buried forever in a landfill. They are constantly upgrading their systems and procedures, improving capacity and efficiency. All of this is meaningful to our community.

Recycled metals save raw materials and energy.The Enhanced Recycling program addresses all the issues that are important to homeowners. First of all, it is convenient and easier than ever before. The company will provide two containers to every household, one for recycling and one for trash. There are three sizes of containers. I checked the sizes and was pleasantly surprised that not only will the small containers easily meet our needs; I will actually be gaining useful space in my garage! They are sturdy, lightweight and have wheels to make them easy to move to the curb. Best of all, there is no additional charge. Republic provides them to everyone for free.

The results of the program in other areas of the Las Vegas valley have been very strong. So far, pilot program statistics show customer satisfaction rates north of 90% in most categories, with ease of use at over 95%. The bottom line is that recycling rates have jumped from under 7% to almost 30% using the new program.

“We must eliminate the concept of waste.”

- William McDonough,
architect and leader in sustainable design

We know that reducing our need for petroleum and other raw materials is a key to the strength of our nation. The Enhanced Recycling Program is part of the equation. In a community named Anthem, with facilities named “Independence” and “Liberty” that reflect the patriotic nature of its citizens, what better way to go beyond rhetoric to meaningful action! We get to walk the talk.

Here is an excellent video that explains the new program in great detail:

 

Comments

  1. Hello Steve,

    I always enjoy reading your column in the RJ.

    Well, today’s story about recycling (1/12/12) got me to thinking. We live in the northwest area of Las Vegas and still have the red/white/blue bins. We separate our recyclables each day and put out the bins on our recycle day.

    However, without fail, we find contents of the ‘plastic’ bin as well as the ‘aluminum/tin can’ bin emptied right back into the garbage. So, what gives? Republic doesn’t really take anything other than newspaper and cardboard??
    Very discouraging to us recyclers.

    And BTW, I do recycle my veggie trimmings and yard waste into my compost pile.

    Thanks,

    Jackie

    • Thanks Jackie. The new single stream programs allow mixed materials in the recycling container. The trucks that pick up the older recycling bins keep the glass separate, but I believe the rest gets sorted at the main facility. Don’t be discouraged! Your plastic, paper, glass and metal are all being recycled. I’ve seen the operation and it works really well.

  2. I have been interested in recycling for some time but have been discouraged by the 3 colored boxes which are very inefficient. In fact I was told that the 3 are actually just dumped together????

    How can we get the larger containers as those in Henderson? My daughter has them in Glendale AZ & her recycle bin is always full before her garbage bin. I believe mine would be also.

    Elba

    • The program is being implemented in phases (much too slowly in my opinion), but our decision-makers are being cautious. The pilot program has now been running for several years and has worked well, with recycling rates rising significantly.

      The feedback from people actually using the new single stream method is very positive. I recommend contacting your city council, in writing, to let them know you are in favor of single-stream recycling in your community. Hearing from people like you will give them the information they need to move forward sooner.

  3. gloria roberto says:

    I live in Sun City Anthem, also. Do I have permission to take my stinky garbage to your house; as it will be picked up only once per week? By the way, I currently recycle, with the three separate containers, and do not have a problem with it. In addition, most of my neighbors recycle, as well.
    This seems like a “GOOD SELL” sell by Republic to save money and reduce work staff.

    • Hi neighbor! Thanks for sharing your opinion and for recycling. I’ve talked directly with people here in the valley that have been using this program for quite some time, including during the summer. In every case, they have given it a thumbs up!

      When asked about odor, 100% of those I’ve spoken to have said it is a non-issue. We only put trash out when there’s enough to bother with, and often that’s less than once a week. Even with the lid off our trash can, there is rarely an odor issue. In my experience, keeping the containers clean, tying bags tight and using a well-fitting lid is really all that’s needed.

      You don’t need to take my word for it. Just watch the video above which includes comments from other valley residents about their experience with the program.

      Just to be clear, I don’t work for Republic Services and they have zero influence on what I write. I reached out to them to request a tour of their facility, on my own time, because I wanted to understand the program and issues before writing about it. I’ve also spoken directly with regular folks who’ve been using the enhanced recycling program for quite some time. Yes I’m selling something, common sense laced with a bit of positive attitude and respect for others. Would you care to buy some?

  4. If the “new and improved” recycling program means there will only be garbage pick up once a week, count me OUT. If you’ve lived here in the summer, in a one family residence as opposed to an apartment complex, and especially if it’s a multiple person family, then you know how horrible the garbage can get if it’s left in the sun, and got forbid it’s in the garage, for a full week.

    I’m down to a very small household now, but I do remember what it was like before.

    • I’m often amazed at the attitude some people have when it comes to their perception of inconvenience. Do any of the other points in the column resonate with you? Do you value the conservation of resources, the energy savings, the sheer reduction of waste?

      In my experience, some of the feedback I’ve gotten on this column seems selfish and egotistical. I know it is natural for people to resist change, but how about caring for the world we will leave to the next generation? Don’t you think you could be just a little bit more flexible?

  5. Ken Peterson says:

    What will the new TRASH pickup schedule be? I remember reading some time ago that it would be once per week rather than twice as at present. Smelly in the summer!

    • The schedule is once a week pickup for both containers, plus once every other week for bulk items. It’s exactly the same number of pickups we have now, just slightly rearranged.

      The odor issue seems to be a common concern. I’ve taken the time to talk to people who actually use the program and they love it. No odor issues for any of those I’ve spoken with. They live here. In the summer.

      The results of customer surveys show overwhelmingly positive responses. It seems to me that when over 80% of participants have good results, then there’s something else that the other 20% might be doing wrong and could fix.

      Smell is an equal-opportunity experience but not all people deal with it equally.

  6. Great article. I assume they will still pick up twice a week so we don’t have garbage sitting around for 7 days in the 100 deg summer heat, which would probably draw a lot of flies or other unwanted critters. Perhaps you might mention that in a future message!!

    Thanks.

    Rick

    • Thanks Rick. You know, there was a time when large American cities had pigs roaming free, eating the garbage that people threw out of their windows. Of course let’s not forget the horse, mule and oxen manure that was a part of life back then. I’m glad we don’t live in those conditions any more.

      We’ve come a long way. Making a slight adjustment in our pickup frequency in order to vastly improve the recycling rate seems like such an easy step to take. I really believe your concerns will prove to be unfounded.

  7. My wife and use the current recycling program and have done so for the past 16 years. The new program seems to be a twofold deal. One is that Republic Services picks up my trash only once a week for normal trash and if I have bulk items like branches I must find a place to store the for up to two weeks as under this new system RS will only take bulk stuff every other week. People with grass clippings will not be too pleased. When I clean up leaves from my rock filled front yard I guess I’ll have to schedule close to a bulk pickup day.

    Now, about the recycle stuff. If I put my recycle out several hours before the truck arrives there is about a 50 percent chance the aluminum cans will be stolen and a 25 percent chance the newspapers will be stolen. This leaves just glass bottles and plastic milk containers for RS to pickup and recycle. Most of the profit from our work rinsing out cans and crushing the cans goes to crooks. Since we are retired we can wait until we hear the truck coming but 90 percent of our neighbors have no choice and there aluminum cans and newspapers go missing well before the RS truck comes by.

    How does San Francisco handle this theft problem? I was born and raised in S.F. leaving in 1968 to join the USAF for the next 23 years.

    My guess with this new recycle container is that to get the aluminum cans they will be dumping over the container to get the cans making a big mess. What do you think will happen?

    William

    • Hi William. You mentioned making an adjustment in your yard schedule. Good for you! That’s exactly the right attitude in my opinion. We can all make small adjustments to our routines which will collectively add up to huge benefits.

      I’ve also noticed the scavenger issue. People have been doing that for thousands of years and I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how other cities deal with it, but I can’t imagine anyone dumping the containers on the street to rummage through the contents. On the other hand, such behavior would probably strengthen the Neighborhood Watch programs considerably!

      • What this new program won’t do is get people to change and not just be lazy and throw everything in the normal trash. I visit with lots of friends and they all seem to think it’s just too much work to rinse out those cans, bottles and milk and juice cartons. They would just throw them in the single trash bin inside the house and only make a single trip to the garage with everything in one bag. I wish I could change their behavior but I can’t make them do this and don’t want to. Maybe more newspapers might end up in the new single bin.

      • William, I think you would be surprised by the actual statistics. Wherever it has been implemented so far, the new program has increased recycling rates and customer participation substantially. That exactly why it is so important. It suddenly becomes much easier for people to take part.

        Sure, there will always be those who don’t get it or just refuse for whatever reason. That’s where good friends like you might be able to explain the benefits and show them just how easy it is! I’m choosing to look on the bright side.

  8. After reading and responding to these comments, I decided to add one more. First, if you are already Reducing what you use, Reusing when appropriate, and then Recycling as much as possible, you have my utmost gratitude. I really appreciate the interest this column has generated, but when it comes to the topic of odor, I’ve rarely spent so much time on such a non-issue. This really stinks!

    My wife and I have lived in Southern Nevada for over thirty years. I’ve always put out the trash when it’s necessary, but hardly ever twice a week. Sometimes not even once a week! That must sound blasphemous to some of you, but we just don’t generate that much trash – by intent.

    On the other hand, after two weeks my recycling bins are ALWAYS overflowing. If yours aren’t, you will very likely be personally responsible for the extinction of the human race and your grand-children might say bad things about you after you’re gone.

    I have a clean house and and a really good-smelling garage. As someone famous once said, “It’s not rocket surgery!” This is all so petty. Come on people, let’s be adults here. Get with the program, stop whining and help heal our planet.

    That’s my Green Dream and I’m sticking to it!

  9. Steve, try this experiment this summer…

    Have a nice chicken dinner on your normal garbage day. Put all the clippings and skins from the chicken in your garbage can … in your garage … leave them there for one week, and check out the odor on your next garbage day.

    My garage never gets over 90 degrees in the summer, and the trash can smell quite rank if I skip a garbage day :-(

    • I think I’ve made my point Tony. There are plenty of people who are on the new weekly pickup schedule that have zero issues with odor. There is no substitute for personal responsibility and good housekeeping habits. Besides, I’m a vegan!

  10. steve —

    [applause]

    what a great concept! the downside is that i no longer reside in las vegas to benefit from it BUT will take it up with my community in atlanta.

    as for the odor.

    the ONLY reason there is an odor is if people are not composting. table scraps, fruit skins, vegetable peelings, etc. anything leftover from eating animals is going to smell to high heaven regardless of temperature, in or outside of one’s home.

    perhaps some of the naysayers can begin to compost, which feeds the “critters” and alleviates the smell factor. my HOA does not permit composting so i take it all to the forest when i cannot make it to my friends urban farm.

    due to your example, i have not put anything down a garbage dispose in over 7 [seven] years, only purchase products with the least amount of packaging, hair from my hairbrush is used by the birds for their nests, etc.

    when i dine out, i make certain i have glass containers in the car in the event of “left overs” and more. i take my straws, napkins, etc. with me to recycle.

    frequently, i invoke your saying, “shouldn’t we live on the planet as if we intend to stay?”

    merely my 2 cents from the ATL,
    cherie

    • Cherie, if only more people cared for our world like you do. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Not everyone has a forest nearby (you’re lucky!) or can even compost for that matter (though all should IMHO). Regardless, you set a fine example of someone who understands the reasons why this topic is so important. You are willing to take that extra step (or many) to live more responsibly and I really appreciate that.

      Thank you.

  11. PS — i happened across this outstanding tip today for making soup using — GARBAGE — meaning the peelings, etc. that should go to compost for a myriad of reasons:

    “Never buy stock and bouillon

    If you’ve done your homework with the soup, you’ve noticed that almost all soup recipes call for stock. Guess what? That’s another thing you never have to buy again. I discovered a few months ago that making stock is even easier than making soup. And you can make it from garbage! Honestly.

    You know all those potato peels, apple cores, onion skins, leek tops, and eggplant stems that collect in your kitchen? Instead of sending them straight to the compost, stick them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Once you have enough to half fill your biggest pot, it’s time to make stock.

    Here’s the method I’ve been using.

    Hot stock tip: I pour the stock into some flexible ice-cube trays and freeze them. Then it’s ready to use in small portions every time we make soup, stew, rice, curry, stir fry … whatever.”

    read more: http://www.grist.org/sustainable-food/2012-01-11-5-packaged-foods-you-never-need-to-buy-again

    • See what I mean about your extra steps? Thanks for taking the time to contribute something constructive to the conversation. This is a great idea that can help people save money and reduce the odor problem as well. Bravo!

  12. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for your article on the recyc. meeting on the 24th. I am an avid recycler but find I am in the minority on my block. It is sad that folks can’t do some basic behaviors (obey speed limits, courtesy to others, recycle) without feeling they need to be rewarded.

    I applaud your green efforts as worthwhile but i do not believe people on this planet are intelligent enough nor have a wide enough circle around them to make smarter choices. Plants and animals understand co-existence and they get along great without people.

    Regards,

    Jeff

  13. steve —

    thanks for your kind words and praise. keep up the stellar columns. i learn so very much from you.

    best,
    ~ c