[Environmental losers]

A complex problem

Nevada doesn’t require recycling at apartment complexes—what the hell?

Hmmm, putting recyclables in a recycling container. Seems straightforward to me …”
Photo: R. Marsh Starks/Las Vegas Sun

Eager to be green, lawmakers are considering the problem of apartment communities: Few complexes offer recycling. This barely distinguishes apartments from the rest of Nevada; as a state, we recycle about 22 percent of our solid waste, while the national average is 32 percent. In Southern Nevada the situation is worse, where we recycle only 19 percent, with 2 percent coming from residences. Note that in 1991, the state leaders set a goal of bringing the state’s recycling rate up to 25 percent; suffice it to say we’re inching toward that goal 18 years later.

And Senate Bill 137 takes the nudging just a little further: it would require that the state Environmental Commission set minimum standards for recycling in apartment complexes. At least homeowners have the option of curbside recycling. But, it turns out, apartment recycling is slightly more complicated than one might think.

And that’s why the Southern Nevada Multi-Housing Association, which represents apartment owners and managers, showed up in Carson City this spring to oppose the measure as it was introduced. Their concerns are practical: with parking spaces at a premium in most complexes, where do we put a new recycling bin? What if our residents throw trash into the recycling bin and contaminate the recyclables? Who will sort that? And will the bins be unsightly bright colors that don’t match our desert color schemes? Michael Fazio, executive director of the SNMA, says that the association most certainly supports the idea of recycling—no one can imagine the sacrilege of not—but opposes a mandate to have bins without some caveats. Basically, he says, we need to think this through.

Republic Services Vice President of Government Affairs Bob Coyle says the trash and recycling collection company supports the bill—in theory, it’d be more commodities for them to sell—but agrees with Fazio that apartment communities have historically had a problem getting the trash into one bin and the recyclables into another. If the recyclables become contaminated with food and other garbage, he can’t sell them to companies who process them for reuse. Then they end up in a landfill; time and effort—and reusable material—wasted.

Some states have mandatory recycling laws that don’t exclude apartment complexes—Wisconsin requires apartments to provide adequate recycling facilities and notify residents of the requirements. Still, other communities have trouble with their renters mixing trash and recyclables. Recently San Jose had to contract with a sorting company at the cost of $1.5 million per year specifically to sort apartment-complex waste, even though they have separate bins for apartment residents. The cost gets tacked on as a 4 percent garbage-collection rate increase for apartment dwellers.

What it seems to boil down to is the ability of individuals to put their garbage in one bin and their recyclables in another. Are we that ridiculous, that we can’t refrain from putting trash where it doesn’t belong? Well, of course we are; our environmental history is a history of exactly that—we’ve contaminated air, water and land, dumped and buried, floated and sunk waste as long as we’ve been consuming.

So we take these baby steps. A bill to open discussion ... about possibly asking ... the state to make minimum standards ... for offering ... recycling service in apartments. A co-sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Allison Copening, lives in a Las Vegas house and has a pretty healthy recycling routine. When she went to Carson City for the legislative session, she rented an apartment.

“I’m a voracious recycler. It was culture shock to not have recycling in the apartment complex,” she says. And so, like a growing number of apartment dwellers, she has taken matters into her own hands, until a measure gets passed: “I have loaded up my things in my car to take to recycling. It kind of sickens me to throw it away.”

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