You can find plenty of naughty behavior in Sin City, but systematic waste isn't one of them. For every empty cup dropped by a tourist on the sidewalk, teams of sanitation workers pick up and recycle litter up and down the Strip. For every glutton piling a plate high with food at the all-you-can-eat buffet, there's real-time analysis of food purchasing and consumption taking place to cut waste. So while a visitor to Vegas might treat the city like a playground where the usual concerns of life don't matter, the resorts and casinos take conservation seriously.
One example is recycling. Did you know that Sands (Venetian and Palazzo) sends almost 55% of its waste to someplace other than a landfill? In the spirt of competition, other heavyweights on the Strip, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, have amped up their diversion efforts. However, it will be hard for anyone to catch up to the Sands Convention and Expo Center, which has a diversion rate of nearly 80%.
Here are four more surprising ways the world-famous oasis in the desert is greener than you probably realize.
Old Hotel Rooms Can Be Re-Created by the Less Fortunate
You might feel a sense of déjà vu if you visit a home that was in the path of a recent hurricane. That dresser sure looks familiar, doesn't it? Haven't I seen that nightstand somewhere before? Used furniture from swanky Las Vegas hotel rooms gets donated to victims of natural disasters.
For example, during recent renovations by Caesars Entertainment of two of its Strip hotels, the Flamingo and the Linq, truckloads of used furniture were shipped to Houston to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. Thus a deserving family in Texas today could be living in a re-creation of a Vegas hotel of yesterday, from the coffee table and sofa to the beds, nightstand, and lamps.
Sherri Pucci, general manager of the Flamingo and the Linq, told the Las Vegas Sun, "We have a commitment to go green. We were trying to think about how we could repurpose the furniture. This idea of getting it to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston was one of the ways we are trying to address that commitment."
Used furniture from another renovated Caesars resort, Bally's, was donated to a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The group had to open a larger store on Las Vegas Boulevard to accommodate the donation. HH sold the furniture to raise money for poor families in the community.
Recognizing That Sometimes the Best Lighting Is Sunlight
Bright, flashing lights are synonymous with Las Vegas. Everyone wants to keep the glitz and glamour but use less energy. Since 2007, Vegas resorts and casinos have replaced hundreds of thousands of lightbulbs with LED technology.
Since LED bulbs burn cooler, properties have also been able to cut their air-conditioning needs. The heat output of an incandescent bulb might not seem like much, but multiply it by hundreds of gambling machines and light fixtures and you see why a resort needed to consume more energy for A/C.
But of course electricity isn't the only way to get light in the desert. In Nevada the sun almost always shines. Tinted windows featuring leading-edge insulation can let in the sunlight but keep out the heat. Exploiting natural light is one of the ways that Sands won the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold award for its Venetian, Palazzo, and Expo megacomplex, considered one giant building since they all connect.
President and COO of Sands at the time, John Caparella, said, "One of the things that we think about as it relates to lighting is how can we not only rely on artificial light but use natural light. When we're able to introduce outside light into the building we try to take advantage of that like we've done successfully in the Palazzo."
Smart energy ideas are catching on along the Strip and elsewhere. Caesars Entertainment said, "Reducing energy consumption is a key element of our CodeGreen strategy to practice comprehensive environmental stewardship through ongoing energy efficiency projects." These projects include retrofitting resorts with LED lighting and installing a 700-kilowatt solar energy system at Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel. "From 2007 to 2018, Caesars Entertainment’s U.S. and international operations reduced energy consumption (fossil fuel based) per square foot by 24 percent."
Venetian/Palazzo is believed to have the largest solar thermal heating system in North America, at 18,200 square feet. It provides heating to the pools, spas, and some domestic hot water. These Sands resorts also generate electricty with a 116-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system.
Gray Water Keeps Plants Green
Lush is hardly the word you think would apply in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and that's why so many Las Vegas resorts delight us with tropical themes, verdant landscaping, and impressive water features. All that greenery casts a spell that makes us believe we are anywhere but a desert, and all that greenery gets thirsty!
Lucky for the region's water supply, Strip resorts reclaim water from their faucets and appliances and use it for landscaping and cleaning. In between, the water makes a stop for thorough filtering, then is designated "gray water" to be used but not drunk. A leading example of water reclamation is Sands, which operates the Venetian, the Palazzo, and the Sands Expo Center. The water from, say, the industrial dishwashing machines will be cleaned and sent out to the sprinkler system to water the lawns, or will be used to mop floors and wash down walkways.
"We've reduced our annual consumption of water by more than 130 million gallons with zero impact on our guests," boasted Sand's then-president, John Caparella, when the complex won the LEED Gold award under his stewardship.
Speaking of water, the famous dancing fountains at the Bellagio (pictured) are often first on the list of examples of how wasteful Sin City can be with its resources, but they don't belong on that list. The fountains are fed by a private well underneath the property, the same well that used to keep the old Dunes golf course green. If the water weren't dancing in the fountains for the enjoyment of millions, it would be languishing underground, doing no good.
Leftovers for Livestock
Reducing food waste takes a three-pronged approach. First, bringing production closer in line with consumption means there will be less of it to waste. Second, finding or cultivating secondary markets for leftovers means the food can nourish people as intended instead of being discarded. Lastly, food waste can go to the farm. You've heard of farm-to-table? This is table-back-to-farm.
MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Sands all have companywide initiatives to repurpose leftover food. Unserved dishes after a banquet might help feed the needy, for example. Inedible food waste gets turned into compost. What most people might not know is that what they don't eat of that big Las Vegas salad might put a smile on a nearby porky face. Thousands of tons of leftover vegetables and fruit are trucked to a valley pig farm. The Vegas pig population enjoys the bounty of dozens of the Strip's famous buffets and restaurants, an envious position to be in if you're a pig!
Las Vegas Livestock, 30 miles north of downtown, raises about 5,000 pigs, which can go through "all the waste food generated from Aria, Bellagio, Luxor, and the Venetian," explained Anthony Curtis in The Las Vegas Advisor. The farm is zoned for 12,000 pigs.
Speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Caesars' director of culinary operations, William Becker, said that eliminating food waste is a good fiscal policy for the company. "Our best interest is to present that food at the least possible cost, which means that we need to eliminate as much waste as possible. And we need to get as much yield out of that product as possible."
Becker said that a small effort, such as teaching cooks not to discard the top and bottom of a bell pepper, can go a long way to reducing waste. "Part of global food waste, in my opinion, is not always overproduction. It’s oftentimes the inability to use 100% of that item."
Conservation makes fiscal sense in the Entertainment Capital of the World, but it's important that guests still feel dazzled and pampered. Next time you visit Las Vegas, consider how the water running down the drain in your hotel room might give a thirsty flower a drink. Or think how the luscious fruit salad you couldn't finish might be enjoyed by a pig a few hours later. Next time you're basking in a resort's steamroom sweating out the previous night's debauchery, think of how the water was heated by solar power. It's fascinating how many ways Sin City has found to conserve resources without detracting from the visitor's experience.