Living single-stream

Citywide recycling stats more than double in 18 months

Waste Management employee John Atyeo makes the rounds in Sparks, where a single-stream program may be forthcoming.

Waste Management employee John Atyeo makes the rounds in Sparks, where a single-stream program may be forthcoming.


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Not surprisingly, the company behind Reno’s new recycling program touts it as a huge success.

Since Waste Management, Inc. rolled out the single-stream system in early 2014, “we’re seeing 75-to-80 percent participation, and in many communities 90 percent,” said spokeswoman Sarah Polito, citing Somersett as one of the more devout neighborhoods. “It just proves that if we can make this easy and convenient for our customers, they’re going to do it.” Only around one-third of local households recycled before the switchover, which came at a cost increase for consumers (see “Trash talk,” June 20, 2013 RN&R).

The operation has yet to hit Sparks and other parts of Washoe County, though it seems to be well on its way.

“They do still have those [sorting] crates,” said Polito, who’s been fielding questions from residents, “but we are having really positive conversations with Washoe County and Sparks, and we’re very hopeful this program will come to those communities as well in the future.”

County commissioners and the Sparks City Council, respectively, must approve the change. A single-stream proposal for Sparks is on the table, though, and council members are “tentatively scheduled to hear a presentation and provide feedback regarding proposed changes” at their regular Aug. 10 meeting, city spokesman Adam Mayberry said in an email.

Finances are at issue in unincorporated Washoe County, where fewer than 400 commercial customers are around to generate funds, according to a report from an April commissioners’ meeting.

“The county does not have sufficient commercial revenue to support a similar model [to Reno’s, or that proposed in Sparks],” reads the memo, “thus alternatives would be necessary to equalize and minimize rate increases on unincorporated residential customers.” Nonetheless, the board is working on a single-stream arrangement slated for review next month.

“I think both municipalities were waiting to see how things went with the Reno roll-out,” said Jaime Souza of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, which supported the program’s inception. “Waste Management has quickly responded to various issues they had at the beginning of the program, but it seems to be going really, really well, and more people are signing up for recycling.”

In light of the drought, Polito suggests scraping dirty recyclables with a spatula in lieu of rinsing—enough to remove gunk so they’ll be of use, anyway. They’re sorted and bundled locally, in case you’re wondering, then bound for the Port of Oakland and buyers in the U.S. and abroad who’ll re-purpose them.

“If I throw my Pepsi can into the recycling bin today, in 60 days, that can will end up back on the shelf,” Polito said, noting her favorite statistic. “It’s such little effort. It’s throwing it in this cart versus the other one.”

Granted, items such as paper towels and greasy pizza boxes—even those marked with the “recyclable” logo—really are trash, she said. So let them go.