LAS VEGAS, THE ENTERTAINMENT capital of the world, lures 35 million people to its luxurious hotels, first-class restaurants, world-class gaming and dazzling shows each year. The city is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country — about 50,000 people relocate there every year. Yet when millions of tourists and residents produce trash, Las Vegas pays for it.
With so many people to serve, the waste handling market in and around Las Vegas is demanding. There are 20 roll-off contractors and construction cleanup companies in Clark County, but Republic Services Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has exclusive franchise agreements for residential, commercial and roll-off customers in the county. “The biggest challenges in this market are planning for the growth in both housing as well as the business community,” says Bob Coyle, Republic president.
Behind the Scenes
As downtown Las Vegas and the Strip become gentrified, the company must prepare to handle the waste from more than a dozen projects in development, mainly new residential high-rise condominium towers. Currently, Republic serves approximately 420,000 single-family residences. The company adds about five residential and five commercial routes per year. In construction and demolition (C&D) waste hauling, Republic already has added 20 routes in 2005 because of the number of construction projects.
With such rapid growth, Republic at times is forced to make trash collection adjustments when a residential area becomes too large. Computerized routing software from RouteSmart helps to adjust and balance route areas. “These kind of changes only happen occasionally and then the route areas are stable for a number of years,” Coyle says.
Despite the residential movements, operations run smoothly. Republic deploys 1,500 employees on 183 residential routes, 20 residential recycling routes, 100 commercial routes and 100 roll-off routes daily. Trash is picked up from residential curbsides two times per week using rear loaders. To service the approximately 21,000 commercial, industrial and multi-family customers, the company uses front loaders and roll-off trucks. The solid waste generated in Clark County urban areas is compacted using D-9 Caterpillar compactors and delivered to one of three transfer stations.
Rolling with the Waste
Just like the city that never sleeps, the three transfer stations — Cheyenne, Henderson and Sloan — operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Combined, the facilities handle about 10,700 tons of solid waste each day. Each transfer station also acts as a truck terminal that houses residential, commercial and roll-off trucks.
The Cheyenne facility is the largest and the oldest of the three stations. Opened in fall 1982, the transfer station measures 70,000 square feet (sq. ft.) with a disposal pit that is 23 ft. deep, 64 ft. wide and 178 ft. long. The Cheyenne facility, located four miles northeast of downtown Las Vegas, handles 6,000 to 6,500 tons of material each day.
The Sloan and Henderson transfer stations were opened in 2000 to relieve the Cheyenne facility of its high volume. The Henderson facility is located 15 miles southeast of downtown and handles 1,500 to 2,000 tons of solid waste per day. Sloan, located 20 miles southwest of downtown, handles 2,000 to 2,200 tons of solid waste per day.
In both enclosed buildings, Republic trucks unload waste material on one side of the building, while third-party contractors and the general public unload on the opposite side for safety. Solid waste is dumped onto a floor and is compacted by Caterpillar loaders. Transfer trailers push the waste material into the loading chutes through the loading holes in the floor. Then waste is loaded into 100-cubic-yard transfer trailers and taken to the Apex Regional Landfill, the nation's largest area landfill located about 20 miles north east of downtown Las Vegas. Apex has more than 200 years of life remaining at existing disposal volumes, according to the company.
“Cheyenne is now handling more volume than it was in 2000, and Sloan and Henderson are each handling close to 2,000 tons per day,” Coyle says. Republic also is searching for a new transfer station site in the northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley, where much of the residential growth has taken place. “We hope to have a new site identified and to begin the permitting process by the end of 2005,” Coyle says.
Recycling in a Growing City
With more trash being generated in Las Vegas and Clark County, waste managers have been pushing to recycle more. The Nevada Legislature mandated a state recycling goal of 25 percent in 1991. According to Nevada Division of Environmental Protection's (NDEP) most recent statistics, the state's recycling rate is 19 percent. Clark County is included in the deficit, with only a 17 percent recycling rate. Las Vegas has a 19 percent rate. Excluding C&D numbers, these percentages drop drastically to 13 percent for Clark County and 14 percent for Las Vegas. According to NDEP Recycling Coordinator Dave Friedman, C&D numbers aren't included when calculating the recycling rate.
The Clark County Health District (CCHD) indicates Republic gathered 19,394 tons of newspaper, 339 tons of mixed metals and 1,251 tons of plastic in 2003 as part of its curbside recycling program. This accounted for about 1 percent of the entire number of recyclables in Clark County. Overall, the county reported gathering about 132,000 tons of paper, 201,000 tons of metal and 2,425 tons of plastic. All recycled glass is collected through the curbside program, Friedman says.
Clark County and Las Vegas are required by law to have a curbside recycling program, Friedman says, but he admits the area is struggling to increase its numbers. “Unfortunately, Las Vegas has a very big tourist economy, larger than any other locale in the United States. Although curbside recycling hits residents, it really misses tourists,” he explains.
To that end, Coyle, a recycling advocate, is working on ways to promote participation and improve the area's recycling programs. Republic is holding focus groups with Las Vegas residents to evaluate their perceptions about existing recycling programs and where they would like improvements. Coyle says once the focus groups are completed, the company will better understand what customers want and will share this information with Clark County.
“Currently we provide residential recycling service using 3- to 12-gallon crates every other week,” Coyle says. “One of the discussion points with Clark County and the neighboring cities' [focus groups] may be to increase this to a weekly service.”
In the Ivory Towers
Because Las Vegas has such a concentration of hotels and tourists, recycling in hotels, which typically have more than 1,000 rooms, can be difficult. Separating the recyclables inside the hotel is logistically impractical. Instead, recycling takes place at the-back-of-the-house, on the hotel receiving dock where an outside recycling company sorts waste and recyclables.
“Our goal is to recycle about 40 percent of the total solid waste,” says Clint Combs, co-owner of Combs Brothers LLC, a new Las Vegas-based recycling company.
As at many hotels, Combs Brothers helps to recycle items without guests or employees knowing. The company separates cardboard, aluminum and plastic. Bob Combs, owner of Waste Management of Nevada, also recycles food scrap and yellow grease, which is collected, boiled, cooled and sent to the company's pig farm.
Combs Brothers has three major hotel clients, including Monte Carlo and the new Wynn Las Vegas, which is expected to open this April with about 2,700 rooms. At larger hotels, it takes about two or three workers sorting 24 hours a day, using a conveyer belt system, to go through the hotel's commingled trash, Clint Combs says.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
Another element to winning at waste management and recycling in Las Vegas is taking care of employees. For example, although talks of strikes have surfaced in the past, Republic now strives to develop a strong relationship with the Teamsters Union by holding bi-monthly meetings with the Labor Management Committee that includes all of the union stewards and the union business agent. These meetings are designed to create a partnership on customer service issues as well as employee issues that affect the entire bargaining group, Coyle says.
“We have a fair and working relationship with the union, but certainly one that is improving,” says Will Flower, vice president of communications and community relations for Republic. “All of our recent upgrades go a long way to extend a working relationship.”
“These meetings are an excellent forum to discuss new ideas and to listen to our employees who have made some excellent suggestions to improve our service to our customers,” Coyle adds.
In the meantime, the company has taken other steps to ensure employees are healthy and happy. For instance, Las Vegas' mid-summer temperatures that reach 115 degrees can create obstacles for employees.
“Heat is one of the biggest problems in Las Vegas,” Flower says. Consequently, Republic provides drivers, collectors and helpers with a Camelback water pouch to ensure they are drinking enough water.
“We also do a lot of education to keep employees informed about the importance of hydration,” Flower says. “The human body will take care of itself provided it has the right nutrients and water, and that is what we try to promote.”
Additionally, Republic has a safety van program that drives the truck routes, finds a vehicle at work and provides 15-minute breaks for drivers and helpers. Inside the van, there is a mobile classroom with a wide-screen TV and air conditioning.
“We provide water and Gatorade as the crew watches an educational video or is given a class that is directly related to what they are currently working on,” says Dave Hefner, Republic's safety manager. “And in less than 15 minutes they go back to their routes.”
“We work very hard to remind our employees that they need to be very cautious about heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sunstroke,” Coyle says. Taking care of employees, as well as the local community's waste and recycling needs, is a winning combination, Flower adds. More importantly, it ties into Republic's new slogan, “A company that cares.”
Morgan Lord is a contributing writer based in Chicago.
REPUBLIC'S CLARK COUNTY SERVICES
Service Area: Las Vegas is about 478,000 square miles. Republic Services serves about 420,000 single-family residences.
Services: Curbside solid waste collection occurs two times a week. Residential recycling occurs ever other week.
No. and Types of Trucks: Collection crews use rear loader trucks on residential routes. About 21,000 commercial, industrial and multi-family customers are serviced using front-end loaders and roll-off trucks.
Containers: 3- to 12-gallon recycling crates
No. of Employees: 1,500 full-time employees
Most interesting: In 2005, Republic's Chairman and CEO, Jim O'Connor, was named “One of the best CEOs in America” and Ted Holmes, CFO, was named “One of the best CFOs in America” by Institutional Investor.
KEEPING WORKERS WELL
Republic Services takes “a progressive approach to working with employees and showing that they care,” according to Will Flower, vice president of communications and community relations. One prominent example is the company's wellness center, which opened in February 2004, that provides health services to the company's 1,500 employees.
Located in Republic's main office in Las Vegas, the center resembles a typical doctor's office, with two full-time nurse practitioners. The facility provides immediate healthcare for employees with injuries, conducts pre-employment physicals and takes proactive health measures, such as giving vaccinations and flu shots.
“We ordered 500 doses of flu vaccine from an outside manufacturer in early 2004 for the fall and winter flu season,” says Bob Coyle, president. “While the rest of the United States was short of the vaccine, we received and dispensed our doses.”
For the most part, on-the-job injuries are not serious, but there are soft-tissue injuries — strains, sprains, cuts and heat-related injuries, says Romeo Vellutini, Republic's workers' compensation manager. “We make it very easy for our people to receive quality medical attention. Additionally, we have a relationship with the nearby pharmacy to ensure that our people can get their prescriptions filled as soon as possible.”
While the center helps to improve employee health and morale, it also is paying dividends to the company's bottom line by improving the tracking of more serious injuries that result in worker's compensation claims. “The nurses document the limitation of an injured worker and monitor his/her progress,” Vellutini explains. “We don't have to wait for the paperwork to show up from a clinic.”
TRANSFER STATIONS AT-A-GLANCE
Cheyenne Transfer Station
Distance from Downtown Las Vegas: Northeast 4 miles
Daily waste material: 6,000 - 6,500 tons
Size of building: 70,000 square feet
Disposal Pit: 23 feet deep, 64 feet wide and 178 feet long
Opened: Fall 1982
Henderson Transfer Station
Distance from Downtown Las Vegas: Southeast 15 miles
Daily waste material: 1,500-2,000 tons
Opened: Spring 2000
Sloan Transfer Station
Distance from Downtown Las Vegas: Southwest 20 miles
Daily waste material: 2,000-2,200 tons
Opened: Spring 2000 (exact replica of Henderson)