Air Force installations set standard in recycling industry year-round

  • Published
  • By Nathan Smith
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs
Since 1997, the U.S. has set aside Nov. 15 for America Recycles Day to remind Americans to recycle and buy recycled products.

While the day is an important one to remind the general public of the value of recycling, the Air Force has set out to "Win the War Against Waste" every day as part of an environmental initiative aimed at reducing the service's solid waste.

At bases around the world, recycling center staffs work every day to find cost-effective, environmentally friendly solutions to do the service's part.

Two particular facilities, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, operate zero-cost recycling programs, employing innovative budgeting and professional practices to stay at the forefront of the recycling industry.

Both facilities invest revenue generated from their recycled materials back into their programs for operating, maintenance and salary costs. After deducting expenses, Mountain Home AFB's recycling center has actually averaged a net gain of $3,500 over the last eight years.

The self-sustaining recycling centers not only save taxpayer dollars, but also allow more mission flexibility for base commanders, said Eddie Jackson, the qualified recycling program, or QRP, manager at Mountain Home AFB.

"We're more receptive to the needs of the base," Jackson said. "If the commander wants us to do something, we work for him. We can do it. We don't have to say, 'It's not in the contract.' We have a lot of flexibility because we're able to adjust to changing markets and the changing needs here on the base."

The QRP at Lackland has seen an increase in recycling volume from 450,000 pounds annually 14 years ago to approximately 1.2 million pounds per quarter today, said Jesse Salinas, the local QRP manager.

Salinas attributed the increase to his staff's diligence in finding new, improved ways to do their jobs. An example has been accepting new materials for recycling such as ink toner cartridges, grease and oil.

But, the process isn't as simple as just accepting new products. Jackson, Salinas and their staffs must monitor market trends and assess the value of commodities to ensure they are feasible and cost-effective.

"Every year we try to improve on something else. Every year we try to attend training and so-on and so-forth because the market is changing," Salinas said.

"We have that 'work smarter, not harder' mentality," Jackson added. "We're constantly looking for new ways to generate revenue, to increase the amount of commodities we collect."

The increases in recyclable commodities at Mountain Home AFB and Lackland have not gone unnoticed as both facilities have been recognized for best practices at the Air Force level.

In addition to their primary recycling work, the two centers also conduct outreach work in their communities. Mountain Home AFB took its war on waste to cyberspace, conducting outreach via social media, while Lackland takes its mascot, Sherriff R.E. Cycle, to local schools to educate children about recycling.

The work at both bases supports the Air Force's overall mission to divert more waste from landfills and to recycling centers, said Nancy Carper, a subject matter expert on integrated solid waste management at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

"This fiscal year the Air Force has a 55-percent diversion goal," Carper said. "This is the highest diversion goal in the history of Air Force diversion efforts and has not been obtained since we began tracking diversion in 1992."

To achieve this lofty goal, installations must review their waste streams to determine what can be diverted from landfills or incinerators. Installation solid waste managers review diversion practices, verify the weight of waste being diverted and evaluate waste diversion costs.

While both facilities' work pays off for the Air Force and the American taxpayer, the most rewarding part is the knowledge that the work is protecting the environment, Salinas said.

Learn more about the Air Force's "Win the War Against Waste" campaign.