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HELPING HEAP: Southern Nevada's high-tech waste disposal is the nation's most advanced

Most of us probably never give it a second thought. The trash truck arrives and loads our waste. Just where exactly does it go?

Most of us probably never give it a second thought. The trash truck arrives and loads our waste. Just where exactly does it go?

For many of us in Southern Nevada, it goes to either the largest landfill in the country or the largest, most technologically advanced recycling center in the country.

Both are operated by Republic Services, and both are located right in our own backyard.

The Apex Landfill is just 20 miles north of Las Vegas, off I-15 and U.S. 93.

“There’s a lot of things that actually go on here, aside from just the waste being placed in the landfill cells,” said Jeremy Walters, a spokesperson for Republic Services. “There’s a power plant, there’s a mining operation and there’s actually a hog farm that takes some food waste as well.”

That’s right, hogs. The food waste generated from most Las Vegas casinos is shipped here, cooked, and eventually served to the swine.

The landfill itself is ideal because of its desert location. Minimal rainfall means minimal impact on the environment.

First, the land is mined for rock and concrete, then its filled with several hundred tons of waste delivered every hour. It stays operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“The saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” said Walters. “Actually, that’s true. Even in this unrecyclable heap, it turns out there is a significant value.”

This mountain is technically layers upon layers of waste. Once buried, the trash eventually biodegrades. One of the bi-products is methane gas, which is then extracted.

“We clean it in a bio plant before we actually send it to a power plant, where we can power at full capacity about 12-thousand homes,” Walters explained.

Meantime, back in North Las Vegas, there’s more refuse. Only these are salvageable materials – paper, plastics, metals, and glass.

“At the recycling center, our job is to separate all your recyclables into respective categories, so they can go off to end markets and be reprocessed into new materials.”

The separating involves several methods, from manually sorting by hand to high-tech machinery that uses electromagnetic forces to draw out metals -- even aluminum. It all travels via a conveyor belt to a final optical sorter, which is actually a high-tech computer equipped with smart cameras.

About 70 tons are processed per hour.

“So once the materials are separated, they’re formed into giant bails like this, where they can then be shipped off for processing.”

Efficiency and expediency are essential for both the recycling and landfill operations. from a mountainous heap to a recycling marvel, and even a hog heaven.

Las Vegas leads the waste industry, and if you’re wondering if the nation’s largest landfill will ever be full.

“So, current projections, in terms of capacity out here at Apex, is about 400 years,” said Walters.

Luckily, not anytime soon.

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