>> [Host Joe Hanson] Americans produce 4.9 pounds of waste per person per day.
That's nearly 600 billion pounds per year.
Where does it all go?
It goes to places like this.
The mountains of trash we throw aw ay can have huge impacts on our environment and climate.
But what if I told you that al l of this waste could one day power a city?
[synth music] ♪ >> [Joe] Welcome to Las Vegas, the place for glitz, glam, gambling and garbage.
Three main categories of waste are solid waste, recyclables, and food waste.
And here in the neon city, we 're going to explore the ways they're turning each of these trash types into treasure.
Las Vegas produces more than five billion pounds of waste per year, and all that trash ends up here.
The Apex Landfill lies in the mountains beyond the city.
At 1900 acres, it's one of the largest landfills in North America, and also one of the busiest.
Apex is one of the only la ndfills in North America that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
As many as 250 trucks enter the la ndfill each day and deliver up to 16 million pounds of waste.
It used to be a place like this wa s called a dump, and that's exactly what they were.
trash dumped in piles with little regard for sanitation.
As trash decays, it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The dumps of yesteryear all but ignored this, as well as other environmental problems.
But today's landfills are feats of engineering.
They are long-term storehouses for society's garbage and places where we manage its potential hazards.
>> [David Vossmer]: It would be comparable to a construction site, where you're building homes in a neighborhood.
We would envision an entire city being built basically as a landfill.
>> [Joe]: David Vossmer has been wo rking in the solid waste industry for 42 years and oversees operations at Apex.
>> [David]: The working face is the active area of the landfill, usually anywhere from two to three acres in size.
>> [Joe]: Each truck that dumps its load carries about 30 tons of garbage.
Compactors then take that trash, spread it across the working face, and mash it down.
>> [David]: Each one of those machines is about 120 to 130,000 pounds.
There's a lot of weight that will smash all the cardboard boxes or trash or any other material that comes in.
It'll lay it down in a nice, even layer.
That's what the landfill business is trying to do, get as much compacted waste into that area or that acre that we can.
That's what extends the life of the landfill.
>> [Joe]: As more and more trash comes in, the landfill grows in height.
>> [David]: It's just like building a pyramid.
The wider the base, the higher we can go with the trash here in the landfill.
>> [Joe]: In some areas, the local landfill is the highest point in the region.
Here in Vegas, this mountain of tr ash is 500 feet high and rising taller by the day.
In spite of the enormous volume of garbage coming in, the landfill will be able to take in trash for another 300 plus years.
How is that possible?
Not only is the site large, but it's also growing.
A mining company on site digs out the surrounding mountains.
In the process, it expands the landfill's footprint and the space it has to operate.
But the best way to keep a landfill from filling up is to waste less.
Las Vegas boasts the largest residential recycling center in North America.
The state-of-the-art facility takes in up to 1.8 million pounds of recyclables per day.
Because Las Vegas uses single stream recycling, all the sorting happens here.
These recyclables will get conveyed through a complex system of sorting machines.
>> [Jeremy Walters]: We have some very unique pieces of equipment, things that do just simple mechanical separation through disks and screens, but we also have computerized machines that are physically reading the material based on its color and density.
It's very smart, and it's very quick.
After a machine initially separates material, people quality control what the machine did.
They're physically looking at the material to ensure that the machine sorted correctly and there are no contaminants within that final product.
>> [Joe]: A new challenge confronting recycling centers like this is the Amazon effect.
Facilities around the country are being inundated with cardboard from online retailers.
Here at this facility, they've had to recalibrate their machines and processes just to handle the deluge.
While 1.8 million pounds of daily recyclables might sound like a lot, it's still just a fraction of the overall waste that gets created each day.
Food is another thing that inundates the waste stream and doesn't belong in a landfill.
Las Vegas is renowned buffets produce a lot of it.
But here in Sin City, they've found an innovative solution.
It's not just people who pig out on buffets.
The residents of the Las Vegas Livestock Farm enjoy it too.
The farm sits on Apex property, bu t is family-owned.
>> [Hank Combs]: Hog farming in Nevada is not very popular, because of the access to feed.
We've circumvented that by doing the food scrap route, which is a very sustainable way to raise our hogs.
>> [Joe]: They take in up to 40,000 pounds per day of the casinos' food waste.
Everything from lobster to ice cream gets processed in giant cookers to make it safe for the hogs to eat.
This fragrant stew won't make the menu in any casino, but it's irresistible to these hogs.
I mean, yummy.
>> [Hank]: They're a lot like a human, so they love their sweets and their meat and the potatoes.
They're not too big on salads.
They won't eat anything.
>> [Joe]: It's not just food waste that's finding a second life in Vegas.
The garbage is too.
In the U.S., landfills like this account for nearly 20% of the human-caused methane emissions.
Some landfills capture and burn it.
But here at Apex, and at a growing number of landfills around the country, they're turning it into energy.
160 wells have been drilled into this mountain of trash, some as deep as 200 feet.
The wells siphon off the gas coming from landfill.
After it's purified, it's sent to an onsite power plant where it's burned to spin turbines, which create energy.
That energy is fed back into the electric grid and powers 11,000 homes here in Southern Nevada.
The total amount of energy produced annually by U.S. landfills powers the equivalent of more than 1 million homes.
>> [Jeremy]: We're actually able to take something that is always going to exist in a landfill, and turn it into something that the community can benefit from.
Most people go day to day without thinking about the trash or the recyclables that they make.
It's just a simple toss it in the bin and forget about it.
And there's so much involved behind the scenes to make sure that we are handling all those materials in the most environmentally responsible way.
>> [David]: Not everything in our world is recyclable.
And as long as society throws things away, we're one of the things that take care of making sure it's done the right way.