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Recycling never ends
by Garrett Valenzuela
Mar 20, 2013 | 6916 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- The 20-foot recycling container outside John Ascuaga's Nugget held more than 56,000 pounds of glass in the first year of the resort's recycling program.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- The 20-foot recycling container outside John Ascuaga's Nugget held more than 56,000 pounds of glass in the first year of the resort's recycling program.
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SPARKS — What do you get when you combine 104,000 pounds of cardboard and paper, plus 262,107 pounds of food compost, plus 59,872 pounds of glass, plus 10,920 pounds of plastic, plus 11,060 pounds of metal? A year of recycling at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. And that doesn’t even include rib-eating weekend.

The numbers tallying recycling efforts at the Nugget are astounding, especially considering the recycling program is still in its infancy. No matter the poundage being produced at the Sparks resort and casino, it doesn’t seem to phase Brent Johnson, janitorial manager of the property. It only appears as a means for improvement.

“To me I think it is all about getting better,” Johnson said Tuesday morning at the Nugget. “When we are doing it, we can see ways to improve so I look at it as a challenge to tell you the truth. I think that we are going to continue to challenge the rib event because I think we can do more there and there are a ton of opportunities out there. Its all about education and participation, that is what it comes down to.”

The Beginning

The Nugget had been recycling cardboard long before it instituted its property-wide recycling program, which really began to take shape when its multiple dumpsters were tipping the safety scales of Waste Management.

“It doesn’t take long when you’re throwing 200-pound bags in there to exceed those limits because glass is very heavy,” Johnson said. “We knew we needed to get those heavy things out of the waste stream, and also do a good thing for the environment by recycling them.”

The Nugget experimented with the 2011 Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, attempting to gauge the amount of food waste that could be generated and recycled as compost. The numbers did not lie as the six-day event produced 18,140 pounds of food compost and 20,240 of cardboard being recycled.

“We were very successful with the food composting in 2011, and the weights and measures we got out of that, but also very successful with the single-stream recycling,” Johnson said. “I kind of set the bar up a little bit and I was hoping for a bigger number for 2012, and I was a little disappointed. We had gotten so good at it and I knew we were going to get better. You always like to see some sizable improvements.”

The Evolution

With the trial of heavy recycling in the rearview mirror, the time came to find a partner who would be willing to handle the Nugget’s waste loads beyond rib cook-off weekend. In comes Castaway Trash Hauling, a family owned business based in Sparks, to begin negotiations and strategies for ensuring the Nugget’s recycling program could get off the ground.

“The Nugget has a pretty robust recycling program based on the stream they produce and it really gave them a lot of options on what they would like to do,” said Steve Duque, operations manager for Castaway. “From our standpoint, they are one of the larger producers of recyclables, and when you add in special events like the rib cook-off, it really pushes that over the top.”

Once operation plans were settled between the two entities, the Nugget began — and succeeded — looking for “anything they could get their hands on to recycle,” Duque said. Of the cardboard, glass, food, plastic, paper and metals the resort recycles, there is not much left for them to target that the infrastructure of recycling in the Truckee Meadows will allow.

“As (a broadened infrastructure) gets online it will open other opportunities for commercial recycling,” Duque said. “Right now, based on what we can recycle here, the Nugget is doing a phenomenal job and recycling everything they possibly can from cardboard to tin to glass. To my knowledge it is the most robust operation of all the resorts in our area.”

The Reason

“Do the right thing” was a common phrase Johnson used when describing how the implementation of the recycling program evolved. Doing the right things began at the executive level when the Ascuaga family, according to Johnson, decided the cost was not as important as the possible benefits.

“Recycling does take some effort because it is easy to throw things away,” Johnson said. “That’s the easiest thing to do, but to actually put something together to get people to take those few extra steps and do the right thing takes a little bit of time. I think the satisfaction that we get out it is all worth the little extra time and little extra effort that it takes. It is getting people to think along those lines that would really help.”

Duque, who spoke over the phone about Castaway’s partnership with the Nugget, was not shy about describing how the deal with the Ascuaga family was struck.

“I think it is important to know that the Ascuaga family made the right choice and it was not based on money,” Duque said. “So much of the time when we talk recycling with big corporations there’s a driving force behind ‘how much money can we save when doing all of this.’ That is definitely not the case for the Ascuagas. They did the right thing for the environment, for the community, and for the property and all with irrespective of profit.”

The Future

To Johnson, recycling is never finished. Even as the total weight of recycled waste climbed 6 percent during the 2012 Nugget Rib Cook-Off, he said there will be new strategies in place this year. The Nugget’s efforts in transforming its recycling program also earned a finalist spot in Nevada Business Magazine’s Family Owned Business Green Award.

Johnson said the day-to-day recycling will also shift some focus to aluminum and other precious metals to maximize the amount being recycled around the property.

“We need to create some excitement, that is one of my goals for this year,” Johnson said of his new initiatives. “If you make it exciting and make it a place for people to go, then everybody gets exposed to it. Making it fun is going to be a key element to it, no matter how we put it together, and whether it succeeds or not.

“I think you always look for ways to get better, and when you are at the top of your game you look for ways to stay on top. (Johnson’s eyes begin to wander from floor to ceiling inside the Nugget administrative offices.) “After that, I guess we will start looking into, well, let’s see what else we can recycle...”
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