LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Las Vegas is known to be the city of excess, but after the party, someone has to clean up. And that means figuring out how to deal with an overwhelming abundance of food waste.
MGM Resorts International, which owns most of the Vegas strip, has been trying to rebrand itself as sustainable. Their efforts seem to be working: in 2018, the U.S. EPA recognized their food recovery efforts by awarding them with a Food Recovery Challenge Award.
“Yes we serve food and, yes, people love to eat food in Las Vegas. That's part of the reason they come here,” Yalmaz Siddiqui, VP of corporate sustainability for MGM Resorts International, told Vice News. “But Las Vegas, in general, has one of the world's best programs for food waste management –– that shocks people.”
If anything, it’s not the idea of Vegas being sustainable, but the methodology behind it, that's shocking.
“For years we’ve been sending not only food scraps to pig farms but also really high quality food,” Siddiqui said. Specifically, MGM has been giving away their left-over food to Las Vegas Livestock, previously known as R.C. Farms. In turn, the farm boils the casinos’ leftovers, creating a warm slop of feed for their 5,000 pigs.
“We see like whole loins, prime rib, coming through,” Hank Combs, the co-owner of the farm, said. “It’s just ridiculous the amount of food that is wasted … but we're glad that we're able to capture it and do something beneficial.”
But since scrap feeding isn’t exactly the most efficient solution for food waste, MGM resorts says its pioneering new and more sustainable ideas — some as eccentric and over-the-top as the city itself.
MGM has also been collecting oyster shells from its restaurants, dries them out in Vegas, and ships them to Maryland to help restore oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay. They also have an expensive, sophisticated system to blast-freeze untouched food from banquets and buffets, for hunger relief agency Three Square’s Food Bank in Nevada.
But, it’s subject to debate just how sustainable it is to truck oysters across the country, or to make such an abundance of food that it has to be flash-frozen or fed to the pigs.
The most efficient way to deal with food waste is not to create it in the first place — so-called source reduction. But that would mean re-imagining this city: No more 25,000 square foot all-you-can-eat buffets, no more banquets for 15,000 people … and no more Vegas –– or at least how we know it to be.
This segment originally aired on VICE News Tonight on HBO.