Fresh Ideas: Talking trash: The state of recycling in Carson City



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Today is trash pickup and recycling day in my neighborhood, and Waste Management’s trucks are beeping up and down the street. Some neighbors have set out their recycling bins, some haven’t. I’ve heard a lot of questions about curbside recycling, from uncertainty about what’s recyclable to the assertion recycling is just a fraud and “it all goes in the landfill anyway.”

So I decided to find out the true state of recycling in Carson City.

The Nevada Legislature passed a recycling law in 1991 that required Nevada communities with a population more than 100,000 offer curbside recycling. As a smaller city, Carson City was not required to offer recycling, but the Board of Supervisors chose to offer it anyway. Since trash service isn’t mandatory in the city, curbside recycling also isn’t mandatory — it’s only offered to Waste Management customers.

I’ve never been sure what I can recycle, so I asked Sarah Polito of Waste Management to fill me in. She said we can recycle aluminum cans, steel cans, glass jars and bottles, and some kinds of plastic. Her rule of thumb about how to tell which plastics are recyclable under the current program is when “the base is bigger than the neck.” That means plastic bottles — not clamshell containers, food storage containers, and all those plastic boxes produce comes in these days. Waste Management takes paper at the curb if the paper is placed in a paper bag and the weather is not wet or rainy. It will not take shredded paper.

I asked Sarah about the assertion “it all ends up in the landfill anyway.”

Actually, Sarah said, the stuff goes to a material recovery facility. There, it’s dumped onto conveyor belts and sorted by human sorters, air currents, and magnets. Sorted materials drop into bunkers, which are then shipped elsewhere for further processing. Much of the material is shipped overseas.

But Sarah said in fact some loads of recyclables do end up in the landfill. If a load has more than 10 percent contaminants, it can’t be properly sorted and must be dumped. So, she said, sorting is important.

It seems to me it would be much easier not to sort at all, and that’s indeed the kind of recycling system many cities have turned to, including Reno and Incline Village. In single-stream recycling, customers place all recyclable materials together in special bins or bags, which are then picked up and hauled to the material sorting facility and sorted there. Single-stream recycling is much easier for the customer, so in cities that offer the program the recycling rate is much higher. After Reno began single-stream recycling in 2012 the recycling rate climbed to 75 percent — far above the 35 percent mandated by Washoe County.

Is there any chance of single-stream recycling in Carson City? Carson City Utility Manager David Bruketta told me the city’s contract with Waste Management will be up for renewal in 2019, and that will be the time to ask the city to switch to single-stream service.

Finally, I want to plug a great program Carson City has for diverting household hazardous waste from the landfill — and from our streams, rivers, and landscape. Last spring my husband and I cleaned out not only our own garage, but also my parents’. We ended up with small amounts of lots of dangerous liquids, from antifreeze to varathane. We were not going to dump them down the drain or in the trash and we had no idea what to do with them, so we called Public Works and found out the city provided Carson City residents with free hazardous waste disposal services. For more information or to make an appointment to drop off materials, call Environmental Control at 775-887-2355.

Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at


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