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Employees at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, Calif., sort polystyrene foam cups as part of Dart Container Corp.’s CARE program. Dart reprocesses the material to create products such as picture frames and crown molding.

One of a Kind: California Casino Resort Earns Zero Waste Certification

The Native American-owned Chumash Casino Resort has become the first casino to receive TRUE Zero Waste accreditation.

California's Chumash Casino Resort just became the first casino to earn zero waste recognition from Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI).

The casino resort, owned and operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and located on the tribe's reservation, earned GBCI's TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification for diverting 2.9 million pounds of solid waste—90.9 percent of its waste stream—from landfills last year.

The Chumash resort's achievement is noteworthy because casinos tend to produce enormous volumes of solid waste. For example, the Santa Ynez Valley News recently reported this eye-popping statistic: Landfills in the Las Vegas area "contain more than 38 million tons of solid waste per resident … a great deal of it generated by visitors to the gambling hub."

To help it attain 90 percent waste diversion, the Chumash resort has formed partnerships with a number of national, regional and local recycling companies, among them are Dart Container Corp., TerraCycle, Veggie Rescue, Engel & Gray, Clean the World Foundation, Textile Waste Solutions and Frontline International.

Mark Funkhouser, the Chumash resort's custodial services manager and the spearhead of its sustainability initiative, cites the formation of the Engel & Gray partnership as a milestone in his organization's journey toward 90 percent waste diversion.

Engel & Gray, based in Santa Maria, Calif., accepts the Chumash resort's landscape trimmings and pre-consumer food scraps and composts the material to create an organic tropical compost mix that it sells as Harvest Blend Compost.

"That was probably the most important piece," says Funkhouser. "Finding a way to divert the wet waste stream from the dry stream and finding someone that was able to process that material—that was a really cool piece. That basically took us from the 65 to 70 percentile recycling and pushed us up to the 90 percentile."

Funkhouser says other casinos and resorts have taken note of the Chumash facility's success with waste diversion and are showing an interest in following its lead.

"We started a sustainability program for Native American properties, and we had our first meeting about a month ago," he says. "We had representatives from six different properties show up to go through our presentation and pick our brains. It's a free association, and we're going to try to grow it for the next couple of years, just to let people know all the steps we took and help guide them to where we are now. It's pretty fun."

Stephanie Barger, who heads the Zero Waste certification program for GBCI, says she was particularly impressed with two of the Chumash resort's sustainability partnerships: its alliance with Veggie Rescue of Santa Ynez to redistribute prepared food to the needy via Meals on Wheels, and its program to collect and compress polystyrene foam cups for shipment to Dart Container Corp., which reprocesses the material to create picture frames, crown molding and other products.

"What we love about our TRUE companies is they really are leaders in the industry," says Barger. "Instead of just saying, 'Oh, that won't work,' they go out and find solutions."

Another factor bolstering the resort's success with sustainability programs is its thorough employee training, adds Barger.

"You can have the best policies and infrastructure in place, but if your employees aren't educated and motivated, it'll never work," she says. "That's what's really impressive. They spend a lot of time, and they really honor their employees. They engage them, they get feedback from them and they empower them."

The Chumash Casino Resort's accreditation pushes the total number of U.S. projects that have received TRUE Zero Waste certification to 123, according to Barger.

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