If you have ever been to Las Vegas, you know it has earned its name of Sin City, the land of excess. It is overflowing with restaurants, clubs, and hotels, all churning out tons of entertainment – and even more solid waste. From leftover food to plastic cocktail cups, the Strip generates a significant carbon footprint. Just one large property can create trash levels equal to that of a small city.
There are tens of thousands of hotel rooms in Vegas. As the city’s 40 million annual visitors come and go, one hotel suite can go through roughly 180 rolls of toilet paper, 1000 pillowcases, 750 bath towels, 650 king sized sheets, and 7,500 gallons of water yearly. However, in terms of waste management, it’s not as dismal as it seems. Vegas may have a lot of waste, but it has also implemented many innovative solutions.
Sin City or Sustainable City?
According to an MGM representative, “recycling is the best-kept secret on the Las Vegas Strip.” And for a place that promotes the party image of don’t-worry-about-tomorrow, this is probably a good idea. Garbage is not particularly glamorous. That said, most hotel properties in the area recycle anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of their garbage, an impressive number for an industry of that size.
And that’s not all. Aside from recycling the usual materials such as plastic, glass, and aluminum, sustainability efforts on the strip are also beginning to look at cardboard, cooking oil, and construction scraps as materials in need of better management. The overarching idea of those in charge seems to be if there is a way to reuse something, it makes sense to do it.
Friendly Sustainability Rivalries
The real eco-conscious trend now visible in Vegas is a new development first established in 2006, when the MGM merged with the Mandalay Group. Together, they created an Energy Environmental Services Division focused on five specific areas: energy management, green building, sustainable construction design, waste and supply chain management, and communication and outreach.
Through these efforts, accountability shot up and so did the responses of different corporations and businesses. Recycling, in particular, became a major focus area as education efforts increased and waste councils were created. Friendly rivalries began to spring up between properties, as they all tried to see who could be the most “green.” Bartenders began saving their wine corks and sending them off to ReCork America to be used for shoes and other items. Apparently, Vegas has beauty as well as brains.
Upstream Recycling Efforts
But sometimes taking recycling seriously means more than just collecting things in a special bin. For the employees at certain locations, recycling means good old-fashioned dumpster diving. When all the trash from the various hotels and restaurants is collected and situated on the dock, the real commitment starts. Given the party mentality of those who visit, much of what should be recycled ends up in the trash, and it has to be manually dug out.
This process of grabbing whatever recyclables are within arm’s reach among the garbage and throwing them in the proper receptacle is known as “upstream” recycling. This can really improve waste management numbers. It may be dirty work, but it’s also making Las Vegas into one of the greenest locations in the US.
Sustainable Disposal of Food Scraps
Kitchens throughout Las Vegas create a significant amount of waste in the form of unfinished lobster dinners, prime rib, and bottomless salad bars. Eventually, this became a focal point for sustainability efforts. When a local businessman celebrating his 70th birthday back in 1963 noticed the piles of food waste being hustled out of the dining room at any given moment, it occurred to him there could be a way to address this problem while still making a profit for himself.
He purchased a 160-acre pig farm in North Las Vegas and never looked back. Eventually passing it on to his son, Bob Combs, he not only left behind a legacy – he created a waste management solution that outlived him. For the past 50 years, Combs’ hogs have been dining on the unwanted leftovers from almost every buffet on the Strip.
Not only is the eclectic food source healthy for the animals, it allows places like the Dunes and the Golden Nugget to dispose of massive amounts of food waste in a sustainable way. They pay Combs a nominal amount to haul it away, and he feeds over half of his 2,500 hogs for free. It’s a win-win.