Recycling program comes up short |

Recycling program comes up short

Rob Sabo
Special to the R-C
A six-month pilot program for curbside recycling in select Douglas County neighborhoods netted more than 78,000 pounds of recyclable goods – but fell far short of paying for itself.
Special to the R-C |

Recycling rates by county (%)

2013 2016

Douglas 57.3 62.3

Washoe 36.5 31.4

Carson City 27.9 28.5

Clark 22 17.7

Source: Nevada Division of Environmental Protection

A six-month pilot program for curbside recycling in select Douglas County neighborhoods netted more than 78,000 pounds of recyclable goods — but fell far short of paying for itself.

Douglas County has long led the state in recycling, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection reports. In 2016, county residents diverted 62.3 percent of recyclable waste materials from landfills — more than double the recycling rate of neighboring Carson City, and more than triple that of Clark County, according to the state.

In February, Douglas Disposal selected 140 houses in Minden and 150 in Gardnerville for the pilot program that ended in July. Customers received roll-out totes similar to their large 90-gallon green totes for refuse, but with blue lids to denote recyclables. The program mirrored the single-stream recycling programs in the state’s large metropolitan areas — and it was enacted to satisfy customer demand as well as to gauge participation and costs, says Jeanne Lear, human resource manager for Douglas Disposal. About 80 percent of households that received the blue totes participated in the program.

“It is something we have inquiries about all the time from our customers,” Lear says. “Particularly those who come from other states who have had those services before.

“We have quite a mix in our customers,” she adds. “We have people who want to handle (recycling) themselves, there are people who are not interested in recycling, and there are people who really want to participate in recycling and want to do it the way it was done before (with the blue totes).”

Recycled material from the pilot program was brought to the Douglas County transfer station and then hauled to Lake Tahoe for further processing. South Tahoe Refuse operates a material recovery operation that can accommodate larger volumes of glass, plastic, paper and aluminum.

Every other week, drivers for Douglas Disposal headed up the hill with recycled materials from the Carson Valley. Processors at South Tahoe Refuse meticulously sorted everything so Douglas Disposal could get a solid count on what types of materials it collected during the pilot program.

“It was very specific,” Lear says. “We slowed everything down so we could get good numbers on what kinds of materials we had.”

The numbers, by volume:

Paper products – 50 percent

Glass – 22 percent

Plastics – 11 percent

Aluminum – 2 percent

Revenue from the 78,440 pounds of material collected accounted for just 22 percent of the cost to run the six-month program, says Terry Trease, controller for Douglas Disposal. And though it was a marginal amount of the total volume collected, aluminum accounted for 40 percent of all revenue generated from the recycled materials. Paper was close to a wash, Lear adds.

“There’s a perception that these materials are highly valuable, and that the recycling program should pay for itself from the revenue generated,” Lear says.

Douglas Disposal services roughly 9,000 customers in unincorporated areas of the Carson Valley. Customers currently take their recycled materials to four collection points throughout the Valley or to the transfer station itself; however, the collection points don’t accept paper products. And since paper was the largest material collected through the pilot program, there’s a clear need to be addressed.

Curbside or single-stream recycling is mandated in Nevada cities with 100,000 residents or more – that means Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Reno are the only cities required to have the containers with the blue lids. Enacting a county-wide curbside recycling program may prove to be difficult on several levels.

Cost is the primary issue — and there aren’t any state funds available to help offset curbside recycling costs. California’s “Bottle Bill,” for instance, charges consumers $.05 to $.10 cents per bottle at the cash register. As a result, more than 18.2 billion containers — one of every five beverage containers recycled in the U.S. — are recycled in California each year.

“There is not a state subsidy or any funds to help support these programs, particularly in rural areas,” Lear says.

Trease says a county-wide curbside recycling program for Douglas Disposal customers would require at least two additional trucks and drivers, as well as four workmen to sort recycled materials. That would be a 17 percent increase in overall staff size for Douglas Disposal.

It would also require expansion to the county transfer station — and a bump in rates for customers. The county controls the rate the private trash collection company can charge its customers, he notes.

“From a business perspective, are you going to make enough money to run the program?” Trease says. “Everyone would agree we want to keep (recyclable) material out of the landfill. It becomes a matter of how much people are willing to pay to keep that material out of the landfill.

“Everyone wants to see as much recycling as possible, but given that we already have the separation boxes already available, one option might be to do an expansion of the separation boxes,” he adds. “There are some additional sites that have been discussed to make it more convenient for customers.”

Douglas Disposal will present its finding from the pilot program to the county in October.