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Arnold M. Knightly

Nevadan at work: The art of diversion: Recycling exec finds lucrative and career in salvaging trash

31 March 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Rob Dorinson loves going through the commercial trash that is generated throughout the valley.

"Recycling excites me because these are precious resources. Waste not, want not," Dorinson said. "Our whole thing is to divert as much as possible from the landfill."

Dorinson founded the commercial recycling company Evergreen Recycling in 1997 after becoming tired of dealing with what he described as unpredictable and poor service at Silver State Disposal, a predecessor to Republic Services.

Dorinson opened his first large recycling plant in eastern Las Vegas in August, bringing Evergreen a long way from where it started, with only four employees, two trucks and 20 recycling bins.

Today, he has the recycling contract for many commercial construction projects, including MGM Mirage's CityCenter, where the company is responsible for hauling approximately 20 40-cubic-yard containers from the site six days a week.

Dorinson didn't start out in recycling.

After dropping out of graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, on his first day 23 years ago, he tried several things, including careers in property management, warehouse development and real estate development before starting in recycling.

Dorinson, who moved to Las Vegas in 1982, was drawn to recycling because he wanted a career that made good money and benefited everyone.

Dorinson said his business, which now employs nearly 50 people, is not only important for the environment, but also helps the economy by boosting job creation and economic development.

"Those opportunities don't come along often," he said. "And when they do, you have to take them and that's basically what I did."

Question: How did you get started in the recycling business?

Answer: The company got started because I used to be the customer. I was building small, commercial custom homes. Before Republic (Services), recycling was owned by Silver State (Disposal) and I had problems getting my box emptied. I talked to some of my colleagues in the business and they said, "Oh yeah, we use a guy in a dump truck."So he came by and gave me a price to haul all the material away. While he was there he separated the metal, the cardboard and the wood. I said, "Well, here's a business."

Question: Are there enough commercial recyclers in Southern Nevada today or is finding service still a problem?

Answer: The level of competition has accelerated and companies have improved their service. The level of competition is keener now because you had people involved in the residential cleanup who have now moved over to the commercial side and are competing to stay alive.

Question: How challenging is it to have such a large account as CityCenter?

Answer: That's a huge challenge for us. They want to recycle as much as possible. They've decided that they want to be a leader in sustainability. It probably started because of tax breaks, but then they realized if they build green buildings they might be more marketable than just a plain residential unit. And, by the way, this is good corporate responsibility. This is something we should be doing anyway.

Question: Your type of business being licensed by the county happened only three years ago. What brought the law change?

Answer: It was the result of a legal settlement in which the county agreed to change those laws and allow companies like Evergreen to build plants, get permitted, get licensed and subject themselves to inspections. A lot of the material that was being collected before ended up at an illegal landfill. It was unpermitted, unsupervised. It was a hole in the ground some farmer had and he was dumping crap into it. Non-Republic haulers were bringing it there and that's what Republic had a problem with. We never had a part in that. We never took any material there, we didn't want to be part of that because we were concerned with doing the right thing. So we've always dumped in Republic's licensed landfill.

Question: How did you operate your business if you didn't have a licensed sorting facility?

Answer: One issue was this: Could Dorinson take the trash back to his yard after he collects it at the construction site and sort through it and take the residual. The county ordinance said we couldn't. We did it anyway. My attitude was, if you want to arrest me and put me in jail for this, go ahead. Then there will be a headline, "Recycler thrown in jail." To Republic's credit, they didn't do some massive lawsuits to wipe us out of business or do any of that stuff. We put up with each other because I took my residual to the licensed landfill, which is Republic's. Now that the law has been changed and I can build a facility like this, I can get 75 to 80 percent recycling out of a facility.

Question: Beyond the new ordinances, what have been some of the biggest changes to the recycling industry in the past 10 years?

Answer: Volume and the prices of commodities. The high demand for plastics, for metals, for anything that requires oil or fuel to make new products, the prices of commodities have skyrocketed. You can see cardboard getting up to $200 a ton. When we first went into business, we were lucky to get $5 a ton. The global demand for these commodities has increased. Now you can make a business out of diversion. You can make a business of taking these materials before they ever get to the landfill and putting them back into the marketplace.

Question: What was it like to go to college in Berkeley in the late 1960s?

Answer: By the late '60s, Vietnam was really raging and the temper of the crowds were angry. It was less friendly, more confrontational than the peace and love of the early years. While I was there getting recruited to play football, there's tear gas going off. It's June 14, 1969, and it was the People's Park riot. I'm a wide-eyed kid from the suburbs looking at this stuff going, "Wow, this is pretty cool." Berkeley was very political in those times. If you wanted to have fun in the park, you went to San Francisco. Listen to music and drink wine. Berkeley was more serious and confrontational.

Question: What was your family's reaction when you quit the graduate program after one day?

Answer: I went home and my dad said, "Well, that's great. Now what are you going to do with your life?" It was one of those coming-home-to-Jesus sort of meetings. I wanted to find something to do where I'm doing good for my fellow man and I can make a good living at it. It took me 25 years to finally find it.

Question: What was your first job after leaving graduate school?

Answer: My roommate was an architecture student, so he and I bought a house, fixed it up and sold it. We kept doing that and we had a little business started called Recycled Homes up in the Bay Area, west of Oakland (Calif.). I was in that business until I moved to Las Vegas.