Darlene M. Cartier

(version appeared in an issue of Biocycle)

Many things in Las Vegas may be a gamble, but one sure bet is recycling! Beyond the glitter of the casino lights is something most visitors to the city don't see-successful recycling programs in hotels and restaurants.

Las Vegas is located in Clark County, Nevada, one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S. In the last ten years the Las Vegas valley has experienced a substantial increase in both population and construction growth. The increasing growth is further impacted by the 29 million visitors drawn to Las Vegas every year by the casino and convention industries. Future tourist populations estimates are projected to exceed 42 million by the year 2000.

The Clark County Health District projects waste volumes for the county will increase from 3,630,000 tons per year in 1995 to as much as 4,200,000 tons per year in the year 2000. Although Nevada does not have mandated recycling, Las Vegas hotels and restaurants are doing their part to help the state achieve it's legislated recycling goal of 25%. 


The average stay of each visitor to Las Vegas is four days. According to the American Hotel and Motel Association, the average hotel guest generates from 1.0-2.5 pounds of waste per room every day. This represents a significant population of waste generators, and a significant amount of waste generated by tourists staying in Las Vegas hotels. Considering Las Vegas hotels range in size from 200 to 6000 rooms, and are at or near capacity throughout the year, the quantity of waste generated by hotels can be staggering.

Waste hauling rates in Clark County are not based on weight or volume as in many other communities. Rates for waste hauling are based on the size of the container and the frequency of pick up. Hotels can significantly reduce their waste hauling fees by reducing their waste and recycling.

Many hotels in other regions of the country have comprehensive internal recycling programs that involve both employee and guest participation. Recycling in Las Vegas hotels however, is done without most guests or employees ever even knowing. Because most Las Vegas hotels have more than 1,000 rooms, internal sorting of garbage and separation of recyclable materials is logistically impossible. Instead, all of the recycling takes place at the back-of-the-house, on the hotel receiving dock. Cardboard is baled, and waste is sorted to remove glass, aluminum, and plastic for recycling.

lthough a few Las Vegas hotels use their own staff to sort waste and recyclables, the majority pay an outside recycling company to perform this function. Hotels will contract to have from one to four employees sort garbage at their hotel. Sorting will take place from eight to twenty four hours per day, depending on the volume of waste generated.

During the waste sorting process hotels also reclaim silverware, plates, linens, and salt and pepper shakers that unintentionally end up in the hotel's garbage. The recovery of these assets (typically referred to as unintended throwaways) can amount to thousands of dollars saved every month. Recovered items are inventoried and monitored as the savings from unintended throwaways are often as great as the savings from avoided waste hauling fees.

Approximately 25-40% of the total waste generated by hotels is food waste. Nearly every major hotel in the city has buffet style dining in one or more of its restaurants. Buffets by their very nature tend to have a significant amount of food waste. Hotels with large numbers of buffet seating may actually have higher proportions of food in their waste streams.

One thing that makes recycling in Las Vegas different from other areas in the country is the ability to recycle food waste. RC Farms, a local pig farm and recycling company, offers an alternative way to deal with food no longer suitable for human consumption. Thirty tons of food waste is picked up from local hotels and restaurants in Las Vegas every day. The food waste is taken to the pig farm , processed, cooked and fed to the pigs. Since composting is difficult in the dry desert climate, the pig farm offers a viable alternative to landfilling useful resource.

otels that have food waste recycling as part of their waste sorting programs are able to further reduce the volume of waste for disposal than if they recycled only traditional materials such as cardboard, aluminum, glass, and plastic. Hotels that recycle food waste also tend to have the highest recovery of silverware, glasses and plates, as the majority of the those items are found in the food waste.

Hotel Highlights 

Harrah's Hotel

Harrah's Hotel was one of the first hotels in Las Vegas to begin a comprehensive recycling program. In November of 1988 an employee suggestion sparked an inquiry into the benefits of a hotel recycling program. After a two week assessment, it was determined that a recycling program would have tremendous benefits for the hotel-both in reducing waste hauling fees and improving the hotel's image to the guest.

The 1700 room hotel generates 11 tons of waste every day. Approximately 1 ton of that daily waste is cardboard. By recycling cardboard, glass, aluminum and plastic, the hotel was able to significantly reduce the need for garbage pick-ups, saving the hotel $48,000 in waste hauling fees every year.


Twenty eight tons of steel are also generated annually at Harrah's, the majority of which comes from "number ten" cans. The hotel is paid approximately one penny per pound for the recyclable material. This equates to $560.00 in revenue every year for a material that would otherwise have been thrown away.

As part of the hotel's waste sorting and food recycling program, Harrah's recovers $60,000-$66,000 every year in items such as silverware and linens that are unintentionally thrown away. This is one of the most important facets to the hotel's waste sorting program.

Harrah's has established an internal program to collect newspaper, glass and aluminum generated by employees. The Harrah's Sunshine Recycling Program enables hotel employees to recycle their own materials, including those brought from home. All the proceeds from the employee's recycled materials go to the Sunshine Fund-a fund that loans money to employees for emergencies. 

The Las Vegas Hilton

The Las Vegas Hilton implemented a recycling program two years ago to prevent the unnecessary landfilling of the hotel's recyclable materials, and to recover valuable silverware, dishes and linens being lost in the hotel's waste.

The 3700 room hotel hires an outside recycling company to provide 16 hours of waste sorting per day. In addition to other materials recycled, the hotel also donates refrigerators and similar items to local apprenticeship programs so trade students may use them to learn how to repair appliances. 

Maxim Hotel and Casino

The Maxim Hotel and Casino's recycling program has been in place for 13 years. The hotel began a waste sorting and recycling program to retrieve hotel assets (unintended throwaways) and reduce disposal costs. The recycling program enabled the hotel to reduce their annual waste hauling fees from $83,800 to $56,400. Approximately 71% of the hotel's waste (by weight) is food, so food waste recycling has played an important role in reducing waste hauling costs. Sorting the garbage enables the Maxim to recover approximately $21,600 in hotels assets every year. 

Treasure Island

Treasure Island's recycling program has been in place since the hotel opened several years ago. By recycling 900 tons of materials every year, the hotel saves $20,000 in annual waste hauling fees. Approximately 21% of the hotel's waste is cardboard, and 71% is food waste. Treasure Island recovers $54,750 in assets every year that have been mistakenly thrown away. 

California Hotel and Casino

The California Hotel and Casino has been recycling for 5 years. The primary reasons the hotel implemented the recycling program were to retrieve hard assets, reduce waste hauling fees, and to conserve natural resources and preserve the environment. The 780 room hotel generates 112 tons of garbage, and 20 tons of recyclables every month. By sorting the garbage the California Hotel recovers 72,800 pieces of equipment every year that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. 


Many Las Vegas restaurants are also implementing comprehensive recycling programs. In addition to increasing awareness about diminishing landfill space, and environmental issues, restaurants are also finding recycling can mean substantially lower waste hauling fees, as well as savings from the recovery of lost materials. One local favorite, Planet Hollywood, has one of the most successful restaurant recycling programs in Las Vegas.

Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood, located in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, was originally sharing the garbage compactor with other restaurants and retail shops. More than two years ago, Executive Chef Rick Giffen wanted to implement a recycling program at the restaurant. He made arrangements to have a separate garbage compactor installed on on receiving dock at Planet Hollywood. Prior to that time, Planet Hollywood was disposing of their waste in a compactor that is shared by other businesses in the Forum mall. The ability to separately control and monitor their own garbage has been crucial to running a successful recycling program.

Today Planet Hollywood has one of the most comprehensive restaurant recycling programs in Las Vegas. Glass, cardboard, aluminum, plastic, and food waste are all recycled. The restaurant and retail shop generate 16 bales of cardboard every week. Recycling is not available to the other businesses in the Forum shop mall due to design constraints. Planet Hollywood therefore, welcomes other businesses in the Forum to bring their cardboard to the restaurant receiving dock to be baled and picked up for recycling.

The popular restaurant serves 27,000 meals every week. Every meal prepared and served produces some waste. Rick Giffen estimates approximately 84% of the restaurant's waste is food, so food waste is also targeted in the recycling program. RC Farms employees hired by Planet Hollywood, sort through the restaurant's waste and separate the recyclable materials, and food waste from the regular garbage.

During the sorting process, silverware, dishes and other materials unintentionally thrown away and are recovered and inventoried. The recovery of these assets is valued at $18,000-$24,000 a year. Rick Giffen estimates a 99% return on all items unintentionally lost in the trash. This recovery would not be possible without the comprehensive sorting that takes place at the restaurant.

Planet Hollywood's program has been in place since August 1994. Their 65% recycling rate is a model for other Las Vegas restaurants. This reduction in waste from 60 tons per week to 20 tons per week made it possible to reduce the number of times their 17 cubic yard dumpster is picked up, from 8 times per week to 2. This reduction is saving the restaurant $40,488 in waste hauling fees every year.

Like many other resort communities, Las Vegas must deal with the waste from the industry that supports the local economy. Although most guests are unaware of the effort of the local hospitality industry to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, hotels and restaurants are continually making the commitment to find ways to reduce their waste and recycle. As the city of lights continues to grow, odds are so will the numbers of hotel and restaurant recycling programs.

Permission to repost granted by Tara Pike/UNLV.