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Fort Hood Recycling Center not a trashy enterprise; thousands of dollars returned

Email   Print   Share By Andrew Pomykal, Sentinel Staff
April 9, 2009 | News
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Bags and bottles fly at the Fort Hood Recycling Center. Here, Dustin Parker sorts and separates recyclable materials, commonly referred to as trash. The center recieves and sells 6,000 tons of reusable materials per year - saving the post $280 thousand annually. Profits are returned to Soldiers and their Families through recreational programs and events. Andrew Pomykal, Sentinel Staff
For many, an empty plastic bottle, beverage can or used cardboard is simply discarded as trash. Not so for the Soldiers of 289th Quartermaster Company – or for those who work at Fort Hood’s Recycling Center. For them, garbage is money.

The quartermasters were recently named the winners of the Commanding General’s Recycling Challenge, sponsored by the center. The unit won by collecting cardboard. The unit that collects the most paper April-June will win the next cash award. Units can compete to win up to $1,500 per quarter for collecting and delivering materials directly to the center – materials that most people hardly give a second thought to after they toss it into a waste bin.

“People think we just deal with trash,” said Rufus Walker, recycling center assistant manager. “We prefer to call it ‘recyclable material.’”

When Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, took charge, he toured the recycling facility and asked, ‘What’s the incentive for Soldier’s to participate?’ Jaycee Lundquist, recycling operations manager, said.

For people who think recycling is futile, set aside all environmental arguments for a second and simply consider its impact in dollars and cents. Annually, more than $100,000 is directly returned to units, and indirectly to Army Families through recreational programs and services, according to Lundquist.

Furthermore, it costs the installation thousands of dollars a year to dispose of trash in area landfills. That’s less money available for training or quality of life improvements, such as new housing. Reducing cost disposal costs saves the post $280,000 yearly.

While the Department of Public Works here has always conducted recycling operations, the program was further jump-started in 1992.

“Years ago, we took the commanding general out to the landfill to demonstrate the amount of reusable materials that was ending up there,” Lundquist said.

He said back then, many units were not practicing good recycling habits. For instance, cardboard was piled high and then buried.

“Soon after, we had a concerted recycling program,” he said.

In 1993, 600 tons of recyclables were trucked off post for reuse. Comparatively, 9,000 tons are now diverted from landfills every year. Currently, the recycling program is the largest in the Army.

“We collect, process and sell more material than anyone else. But, we can do more,” Turnquist said. “Our goal is ten thousand tons a year. The challenge is to get Soldiers to be more involved and to help us reach our goal.”

Again, what’s in it for Soldiers?

The recycling center directly contributes toward many recreational events, programs and activities. For example, $45,000 is spent on the post’s July 4 fireworks display; $15,000 is dedicated to carnival fun during Freedom Fest; and $35,000 goes toward energy conservation initiatives. Additional funds are earmarked for similar projects.

Additionally, the post has partnered with local communities that donate their recyclables. The center also maintains outreach programs with schools to raise awareness on the importance of recycling.

Walker stressed the benefit of cultivating the next generation of recyclers. He heads the school-age educational program. Most have been receptive to the message, readily accepting the imperative of protecting the planet.

“I’ve created some little monsters, but it’s enjoyable,” Walker said, on educating his more passionate protegees. “They understand it’s the right thing to do.”

Anyone who attempts to undermine the merits of recycling to an environmentally-conscious nine-year-old is quickly exposed as negligent. Whether adults advocate recycling or not, the kids understand they’re making a difference, Walker said.

On average, each consumer produces 6.5 lbs. of waste daily in the form of discarded packaging and products, most of which are recyclable, Turnquist said.

Materials are processed according to category and compacted into huge bales for shipment to 25 different buyers in several states. A 2,000-lb., bale of shredded white paper goes for $1,800. Despite the current economic turndown, demand for recyclables remains high.

“Everything we have is already sold. We need more,” Turnquist said.

Currently the center is manned by 43 employees who process 40 semi-truck loads of materials every month. Walker said they are proud of their labor.

Employees are awarded monthly according to merit.

“It’s a less-than-glamorous, labor- intensive job, but we know we are making an impact that benefits Soldiers,” he said.

That impact is evident at the facility with ongoing expansions and proposed upgrades. Soon, an industrial paper shredder will be installed in Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. A cardboard bailer will be moved to another manned recycling center soon to open at North Fort Hood.

The main center is set to receive a larger bailer that will almost double current output.

That’s impressive for a program built from scratch and completely self-sufficient with an annual operating budget of $2 million. All proceeds are returned to the facility, units that recycle, and Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

“Our mission is to be good stewards of the environment and generate a profit,” Turnquist said. “It’s all a part of Team Recycle.”

The recycling center accepts all manner of paper, cardboard, glass and plastic; including compact discs, used range targets, unserviceable water cans and more.

For ease of use, recycling containers are provided at both post commissaries. The main facility is located on 72nd Street, near Railhead. It is open Monday-Friday.

For more information on recycling, or to request recycling containers in your area, call 287-2336.
 
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