Among the unwanted side effects of our tremendous growth here in the valley is trash -- mountains and mountains of it. And not all of it ends up in the county landfill.
If it's been awhile since you've driven into Las Vegas from the north, you should check it out sometime. It's enough to make you wretch -- garbage as far as the eye can see. most of it having blown out of trucks going to and from the dump.
Each year, tens of thousands of visitors travel into the valley from the North on I-15. This isn't the kind of first impression our community wants to make. So we're left asking, why is this allowed to happen, year after year?
The trash becomes noticeable immediately after passing the junction of I-15 and Highway 93. That's the spot where trucks turn back from the landfill for the return to Las Vegas. From that point on, for several miles, it's hard to see a spot that isn't covered with trash.
Every bush seems to have its own plastic bag. The litter is so thick in some places, that it looks as if the garbage trucks just dumped their load on the side of the road. The source of the trash isn't hard to determine.
It blows out of the trucks, some of which have no covering at all. Every day, up to 200 trucks owned by Republic Services, the garbage contractor, drive to and from the dump site.
It didn't take us long to spot Republic trucks leaking garbage. From a higher vantage point, it's apparent that some of the offending trucks are incompletely covered, or the covering itself is tattered and spotty.
Scores of other trucks not owned by Republic arrive at the dump every day with no covering at all.
It might seem odd, but the western side, the return side, is thicker with garbage than its opposite. That's because even fewer trucks are covered on the way back.
Their sides are often clotted with those ubiquitous plastic sacks. They blow out, and then attach themselves to anything stationary.
"It's really disgusting for our visitors who drive in from the north along I-15. I think it makes them wonder about the Las Vegas community when they see that kind of litter through long stretches of the freeway coming into town," said Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury.
Woodbury is clearly frustrated by this lingering embarrassment. In recent months, he has called several parties onto the carpet to look for solutions -- including Republic Services, which has an exclusive deal with the county.
It would be tough to force Republic to clean up all of the trash since so much of it is generated by others but Woodbury thinks they share some of the blame.
"I think there is no question that Republic bears a very significant part of the responsibility. I think we have a right to insist they do everything in their power to minimize the litter," he said.
Until you see the Apex Landfill from the air, it's hard to grasp just how monumental a job it is to dispose of the millions of tons of refuse generated each year in Las Vegas.
It's a gargantuan operation to pick it up, truck it out, move it around and then cover it with dirt. But the litter from trucks isn't an afterthought according to CEO Bob Coyle, who authorized a massive investment into new, leakproof trailers for his trucks.
"One of the advantages of replacing those old trailers, is that we were able to implement a much better tarping system that covers the entire top of the trailer -- which will prevent litter from escaping," he said.
Coyle says there's nothing he can do to independent trucks arriving at the dump with no cover on their loads. He doesn't have the authority to charge extra for uncovered loads.
But even if he did, higher fees could lead to an even worse outrage. Eyewitness News found an impromptu dump on a frontage road less than a mile from Apex. The desert area has been turned into a landfill by scofflaws who don't want to pay any fees.
Coyle says his company donates more than $100,000 a year to trash cleanup near Apex. He'd like to see another change.
"I think the plastic bags should be outlawed. They really can't be recycled. They're just a nuisance wherever you are," he said.
Coyle's drivers probably wouldn't argue with that, since elusive plastic bags are now causing many of them to be pulled over and cited. Since the I-Team first contacted Nevada Highway Patrol about this story one month ago, they have initiated a serious crackdown on offending trucks.
Drivers are expected to secure their own loads before they head for the dump.
One driver got pulled over because his screens weren't secure, "They were just flapping because of the wind. They said I wasn't losing any trash."
But as he said that, almost on cue, a plastic bag wafted out of his truck, carried aloft on the breeze like the feather in Forrest Gump.
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