Energy Management & Sustainability Management

Audits Help Caesars Reduce Waste As Company Approaches 2020 Goal - By Glenn Hasek

Caesars Entertainment Corp., with the help of Ecova, is digging deep into its own trash to uncover opportunities to improve its waste diversion rate. That diversion rate currently stands at 44 percent, up from 23 percent in 2013. The company’s 2020 goal is a 50 percent diversion rate.

Green Lodging News

Caesars Entertainment Corp., with the help of Ecova, is digging deep into its own trash to uncover opportunities to improve its waste diversion rate. That diversion rate currently stands at 44 percent, up from 23 percent in 2013. The company’s 2020 goal is a 50 percent diversion rate. Key to Caesars’ success so far is its commitment to consistently measure its waste stream and conduct a “dumpster dive” every now and then to uncover opportunities for continuous improvement.

When Jeff Ruskowitz, Caesars’ Manager of Engineering and Sustainable Operations, joined the company in 2013, he found that Caesars had not been actively measuring its organizational diversion level as part of the company’s overall CodeGreen program. “Execution was happening in site-specific silos,” Ruskowitz says. “There was no centralized, aggregate reporting effort, so we were unable to make an accurate assessment of our progress. In addition to this decentralization, we realized that not everything being diverted, particularly organics, was being reported. We had not physically opened up a compactor. We didn’t really have an idea of what was there.”

To establish a baseline, Ruskowitz made a concerted effort in 2013 to implement organization-wide monthly reporting criteria based on EPA WasteWise guidelines. For the duration of that year, facilities reported their waste prevention, recycling, composting and buying/manufacturing of recycled-content products directly to Ruskowitz. “Using that data, we were able to accurately measure our actual tonnage diversion,” Ruskowitz says.

In 2014, Caesars contracted utility bill processing and analysis services from Ecova, which also offered waste consulting.

“We knew that to gain insight into why we weren’t diverting more, we had to see the unseen—the volume of divertible material going into our compactors,” says Ruskowitz. “Many of our facilities feature multiple restaurants, so we had a strong suspicion that food waste diversion would be a significant opportunity.”


Two Audits Conducted

In determining which sites to audit, Ruskowitz and the team at Ecova chose two distinctly different properties representative of Caesars’ diverse site portfolio to create a snapshot of the waste disposal trends it could anticipate across the enterprise. The first audit was conducted at the Horseshoe Casino Hammond, a casino property in Hammond, Ind., and the second at Rio Las Vegas, a large-scale resort property in Las Vegas.

Ecova took the lead on planning and execution of the audits, which required coordination with haulers at both sites to reserve large, safe spaces at their respective transfer stations, where the sorting and recording processes would occur. When the time came to don gloves and hard hats and pick through the trash, Ruskowitz and his team were on-hand and knee-deep in the activity. 

“It was an eye-opening experience to see what was in there,” he says. “While Caesars already had an established recycling program, the audit exercises revealed just how great an opportunity we had on the path to meeting and exceeding our waste goal.”

In all, auditors pored through nearly nine tons of waste at the two properties and, as suspected, measured considerable differences in the volume of divertible waste at each. Food waste presented the greatest opportunity, by far, for increased diversion at Rio Las Vegas, where it accounted for 55 percent of compactor material by volume and 80 percent by weight. At Horseshoe Hammond, on the other hand, while food was the leading divertible waste by weight, true recyclables like glass, plastic, paper, cardboard and metal comprised nearly 60 percent of divertible material by volume.

“The volume and weight of our food and food packaging waste was surprising, so it became a priority to address those,” says Ruskowitz.

Food Digester Liquefies Waste

At Horseshoe Hammond, a food digester has been purchased and it now converts 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of food waste daily into drainable liquid. “The machine works really well,” Ruskowitz says. “The food machine is in the room next to where the composters are.”

At Rio Las Vegas, all outgoing waste is sorted. “We have dock sorters physically opening every single bag,” Ruskowitz says. “We have done it for five or six years at our Vegas properties. The dock sorters are doing a great job.”

Caesars has relationships with composting facilities, food banks and pantries, farms and bioenergy facilities at many of their properties, but is always seeking additional food diversion solutions. Food waste in Las Vegas, for example, is sent to a pig farm.

“Caesars has been great at finding places for waste materials,” says Kristin Kinder, Project Lead for the Waste Solutions Team at Ecova.

On the supply side, Caesars is working to drive reductions in prepared food packaging. It is also more closely monitoring the volume of food it prepares. At buffets, for example, trays are replenished on demand toward the end of the day instead of automatically. “We are also working on directly donating unused food,” Ruskowitz says.

‘Homes’ Found for All Waste Materials

Caesars partners with Ecova to identify and procure diversion partners, and Ruskowitz says the audits didn’t uncover any single divertible material that the partners couldn’t find a diversion solution to accommodate.

While food waste presents Caesars with the biggest diversion opportunity, the audit uncovered plenty of low-hanging fruit in the form of waste that’s easily recycled—or altogether mitigated. “The amount of glass and aluminum in our compactors was surprising, and that’s material that can easily be recycled,” says Ruskowitz.

“One of the most common things we see is that basic recyclables are still entering the waste stream,” Kinder says.

One of the next big challenges is engaging guests in the process. “We found a lot of silverware and intact barware in compactors from both locations,” explains Ruskowitz, which indicates that in some cases guests are throwing Caesars’ assets in the trash. “From what we’ve learned, we see an opportunity for increased education and outreach to guests and staff alike.”

Waste Audit Results Shared with CodeGreen Teams

As a result of its initial waste audits, Caesars has doubled down on its centralized outreach and education efforts. Upon receipt of detailed waste audit reports from Ecova, Ruskowitz shares what he’s learned with property-specific CodeGreen teams comprised of a team leader and representatives from each key department, including housekeeping, food and beverage, and facilities. “Their ability to see a visual representation of what’s going into our trash compactors goes a long way toward their understanding of where we can improve,” Ruskowitz says.

Moving forward, more waste audits are being planned to further refine the site-specific diversion efforts at Caesars. Its initial choice of two distinctly different audit sites provided a snapshot of its diversion opportunities that could be applied at other locations in the Caesars portfolio, but Ruskowitz knows that waste streams can vary greatly depending on the type of site and the local recycling programs available. “We’ll continue to audit and continue pushing diversion, especially of organics, as much as possible,” he says. “The more we divert, the more money we save and the bigger environmental impact we make.”

At the end of the day, Kinder says Caesars’ waste reduction success story is an example of the importance of data and how it was leveraged to build momentum. “Caesars has been strategic in how it has used data in its decisions,” she says.

Go to Caesars Entertainment Corp.

This article first appeared on the Green Lodging News website. To sign up to receive the weekly Green Lodging News newsletter, go to Glenn Hasek can be reached at

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