A look inside North America’s largest recycling center, right here in the Las Vegas Valley

On a recent tour of the Southern Nevada Recycling Center, Jeremy Walters, Community Relations Manager, offered examples of things people throw away that they think are recyclable but actually don’t. He took out items such as dirty diapers, blown tires, electrical wiring, and a plastic Christmas tree.

To say that Walter saw trash in all its forms is an understatement. The 110,000-square-foot facility in North Las Vegas is the largest home recycling center in North America and can process 2 million pounds of recyclable material (or approximately 70 tons per hour) every day. In context, the bales of recyclable materials that the system processes in a single day can reach up to two stratospheric towers.

It has sophisticated sorters of the magnetic, optical, and human type that separate garbage into paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, and landfill. It’s a stunning display of the trash of modern society, from plastic water bottles to food containers to a mind-boggling array of product packaging.

In one corner is a mountain of cardboard boxes, mostly with the Amazon smiley face, reminding of the price of convenience. Walters even has a name for this new class of junk: the Amazon Effect. During the pandemic, it increased in proportion to the net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Walters thinks the trash that is processed here every day is a good thing. “As long as they’re here, it’s okay. Not everyone recycles. There’s a decent amount of stuff going to the landfill because someone at the consumer level makes the decision at the curb to throw good recyclables in the trash. But in any case, seeing it here should give you hope. “

Visit republicservices.com/residents/recycling/basics for lots of tips on how to properly recycle. Guided tours through the facility are only possible by appointment (vegasrecycling.com). In the meantime, here are the top three things Walters hopes customers will consider when filling their blue trash cans …

Flexible plastics are a no-no.

Any plastic that you can stick your finger through, such as grocery bags, ziploc bags, disposable product bags, and those white Amazon satchels or envelopes, are not recyclable as they will damage the recycling machines. “The best example I can give people to really visualize it is thinking about when to vacuum at home,” says Walters. “Over time, when you vacuum, the roller of your vacuum cleaner becomes wrapped in hair. If you don’t cut it out, your vacuum will either be inefficient or blocked altogether. The same principle applies to flexible plastics and the way our machines work. “

Watch out for food contamination.

If you don’t rinse and dry your recyclables, they can contaminate a large amount of other recyclables that will then have to be thrown in the landfill. “That’s why it’s important not to throw dirty pasta sauce glasses [the] Recycling, ”says Walters,“ because when it’s dirty we have to take it out and throw it away. “Walters also says that people often confuse composting with recycling and throw away food waste with its recyclable materials. “No organic material should be recycled,” he says. “We call it ’empty, clean, dry’ – three words that people can easily remember.”

Do not confuse reuse with recycling.

Walters says there is a certain type of mentality called aspirational recycling or “wishcycling” that is common. This is when people toss things in the trash hoping and wishing that they are actually recyclable. “We get all of these things, like bowling balls, clothes, shoes, toys. You have things that are still good and usable, maybe you have outgrown them and no longer want them. Keeping things out of the waste stream will always be the most sustainable option. Take these things to a fundraising center or similar locations, ”he says.

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