The Waste Expo convention that I attended early this month was sponsored in part by the National Solid Wastes Management Association, which launched a public relations campaign at the event. The campaign is called “Environmentalists. Every Day.” and is meant to paint some green attitude on the garbage business.
Included on the campaign’s web site are little tutorials on how waste management professionals ought to engage with the public at large and basically make the industry out to be a steward of the Earth, or something like that. The organization is basically saying “Hey, we’re part of the solution, not the problem!”
Well, it is true that the solid waste industry has evolved quite a bit in recent decades – though I would offer that perhaps this evolution is due largely to having to comply with environmental regulations and in finding business value in the recycling industry. But does an industry that calls energy generated through incineration a “renewable” energy really embrace the tenets of sustainability?
Anyway, I digress. Yesterday I looked at how residential trash is handled in Las Vegas. Today, in my final Waste Expo posting, I’m going to look at the trip that tourist- and conventioneer-generated trash takes, once it hits the garbage can.
This year’s Waste Expo was held in the Las Vegas Convention Center, a behemoth hall encompassing 3.2 million square feet. I thought maybe the event managers would work with the sponsors to make the event reflect this “Environmentalists. Every Day.” campaign. (I can hear all you cynics out there laughing.)
After finishing my boxed lunch (a veggie wrap, a bag of potato chips, a bag of cookies, a teeny water bottle), I scanned the room for the appropriate receptacles and then realized I’ve been living in the bubble formed by fancy-pants San Francisco green business events for too long. There was one big garbage bin. It all went in there. See above photo.
I had a glimmer of hope when I spotted a “recyclables will be separated off-site” sticker on another trash bin in the hallway. So when I later talked to Bob Coyle, vice president of public affairs for waste management company Republic Services of Southern Nevada, I asked him about that sign and the likely fate of my lunch box.
It’s hard to know for sure, but that water bottle and that cardboard lunch box are likely sitting in the Apex Regional Landfill right now. If I had placed them instead in the trash can in the hallway, however, they would possibly be at the regional recycling center. Oops.
Coyle explained that Republic Services handles waste collection at the Convention Center and has, over the last few years, worked with the center to start diverting trash generated at the site to the regional recycling center. Right now, about half of the trash generated there – including the big heavy construction debris that exhibitors sometimes leave behind, such as carpet trimmings and other construction waste – gets recycled. According to Coyle.
But more interesting, from a green business point of view, are two other recycling efforts in Las Vegas. Coyle says that many of the hotels and casinos in Vegas hire firms to sort through some of their trash before it heads for the landfill. They do what you’d expect: remove cardboard, plastic and other recyclables from the waste stream. But they also mine the trash for “assets” such as silverware, plates and other stuff that ends up on the wrong side of the loading dock. In fact, Coyle claims that some of the large hotel-casinos are able to salvage “about a $1 million worth of assets each year.” Amazing.
The infamous Vegas Strip buffet lines are part of another rather surprisingly sustainable sin city waste stream. Turns out much of the food refuse generated at large hotel-casinos is given to a local pig farmer, Bob Combs, who operates R.C. Farms. Combs has been using gambler’s leftovers to raise his thousands of pigs for many decades and, despite reported offers of half-billion-dollar buyouts from developers, has no apparent plans to stop.
So that’s the green side of waste disposal in Las Vegas, I suppose. As I mentioned yesterday, in a place where landfill rates are low, landfill-able real estate is plentiful, there isn’t a lot of incentive to recycle.
All that said, I’d love to hear about other efforts afoot in the Las Vegas to intelligently utilize solid waste. If you’ve got them, please share in comments below.