Improve recycling laws

Assembly candidate Jason Geddes says Nevada needs to tighten up recycling laws.

Dr. Jason Geddes is the environmental affairs manager for the University of Nevada, Reno, a native Nevadan and a candidate for Assembly District 24.

It is time to improve our community’s recycling program. The goal of the 1991 legislation was to achieve 25 percent recycling of statewide municipal solid waste. In 2001, Washoe County achieved that mark for the first time and continues to improve its percentages each year, but our statewide total is still just 14 percent. We can and must do better.

The University of Nevada, Reno, is one of the first major entities in the county to have its staff begin fully exploring recycling and sustainability options. Personnel have moved the program beyond the requirement to recycle mixed paper, adding an active program for toner cartridges, ink cartridges, fluorescent light tubes and ballasts, batteries and waste oil. The campus program also includes collection of aerosol cans, paints and hazardous chemicals to ensure proper disposal. There is an active reuse program in which all office furniture, computers and other items are offered from one campus group to another. If these items do not find a home on campus, they are offered to the public at monthly auctions, preventing perfectly usable items from ending up in the landfill. In addition, through the efforts of the Campus Greens and a grant from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, bins for the collection of aluminum cans, glass and plastic are available throughout campus.

University staff has taken good preliminary steps toward a more aggressive recycling and sustainability program, but it is not enough for the program to end at the university gates. Approximately 405,000 households have curbside service available to them. But according to the 2001 Recycling Status and Market Report prepared by NDEP, residents who do not have such a program available only recycle through sources that pay for that effort directly (such as can-crushing centers). While statutory requirements to make recycling available are thought to have been satisfied, the report also states that the amount of municipal solid waste recycled in Nevada has steadily declined. In other words, the situation is getting worse. It is time for new statutory requirements.

The funds generated by a $1 surcharge on auto tires currently support the programs. A “tippage” fee may be a more equitable solution, as it would require entities that generate the most waste to pay their fair share (such as Sacramento County, Calif., which sends more than 540,000 tons of garbage into the landfill at Lockwood—more than the 519,000 tons generated in Washoe County).

The 2001 NDEP report was prepared for the 2001 Legislature, which failed to act. The 2003 Legislature needs to introduce and discuss bills that will (1) require curbside recycling be offered at apartment complexes and multifamily dwellings; (2) require state agencies and school districts to purchase recycled products when economically equivalent and (3) review the current method of funding the programs.

As we scrutinize businesses in the area (or those considering relocating here) for impacts on the environment, we must also look in our own garbage cans. We must determine what we can do to preserve the quality of life for all Nevadans and all future generations of Nevadans. Then we must act.