WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- In spite of COVID-19 restrictions and the large number of teleworking Airmen - both military and civilian - Wright-Patterson Air Force Base produced more than 3,600 tons of solid waste during the first nine months of fiscal year 2021.
But almost a half of it did not end up in a landfill. Instead, it was recycled and reused.
Among the recycled items were office paper, cardboard, toner cartridges and various metals from around Wright-Patt, including eight 420,000-gallon fuel tanks.
“We have a 100% recycled policy on base for paper and cardboard,” said Brian Robinson, the 88th Civil Engineer Group’s Integrated Solid Waste Program manager. “The Qualified Recycle Program Committee decided to discontinue plastics in the fall of 2020 because the program was losing money.”
For most Wright-Patt community members, their main contact with the Recycling Center is one of the approximately 300 dumpsters scattered around base labeled for the collection of paper, cardboard, toners or metal.
So what should the base community be more aware of when it comes to recycling?
“Be more cognizant or aware of what container they’re putting things into,” said Thomas Doucette, WPAFB’s Recycling Center manager. “Don’t throw trash into the cardboard container. If you’re at the paper container, don’t shove your cardboard boxes in there; they don’t go in there.”
When a container is picked up and brought to the Recycling Center, contents are dumped on the floor and sorted by hand.
The more things that do not belong in that pile, officials say, the more time and labor involved in the process, which creates more expense for a program that, in most years, barely breaks even.
According to data provided by Robinson, the base’s recycling program averaged an annual economic benefit for the Air Force of slightly more than $60,000 across fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020. That not only takes into account revenue gained by selling commodities but also money saved from not having to hall hundreds of tons of material to the landfill. Labor and other program costs are also taken into consideration.
“The more the people out on the base separate the commodities...the less labor it takes down at the center,” Robinson said. “If we get a cardboard container...and it’s all cardboard, we push it in the baler and it’s a done deal. The biggest thing we need to push is that cardboard’s cardboard. Paper’s paper. Keep them separate.”
Doucette explained that cardboard has a corrugated layer. The material that makes up soda cartons and cereal boxes is heavy paper, not cardboard.
Almost as big an issue, and maybe more unpleasant, is when trash gets tossed into a recycling container.
“We have a large dumpster outside the Recycling Center. So all that stuff that comes in through the containers that can’t be recycled goes in that trash,” Robinson said. “We have the dumpster emptied once or twice a week. That’s how much trash is coming into the Recycling Center. That’s just labor intensive.”
While plastic was losing money, metal is the center’s biggest moneymaker. Workers there handle a wide variety of the commodity.
“The only thing we can’t recycle is precious metals,” Doucette said. “We can take any other kind of metal you can think of: copper, brass, aluminum, steel, stainless steel, titanium.”
That’s where the tanks from Wright-Patt’s fuel farm came in.
Robinson said contracts for construction and demolition projects have provisions built into them with incentives for recycling. He ensures base contractors have containers on job sites to collect material — and they call him to arrange for pickup.
However, that’s not what they did with the fuel tanks. They did not try to pack the huge fuel tanks into recycling containers.
“Whoever we had under agreement for that type of metal for that month...they just came directly to the job site and took the metal,” Robinson said. “So, it kind of took all the labor off the Recycling Center. It was a very profitable project. But they’re not all like that.”
The Recycling Center is run through a memorandum of agreement between the 88 CEG and the 88th Force Support Squadron.
“The program is owned by civil engineering, and has oversight by civil engineering, but it is staffed by the FSS,” Doucette said.
Doucette and Robinson work together to determine what recyclables to sell and when.
“We jointly decide what commodities we’re going to put up for sale each month,” Robinson said. “We walk the yard, we see what we got, look at the market and, if the market’s doing well, we may push a small sell out. If the market is not doing so well, we may hold back and wait till the next month and then push out a bigger sale.”
Besides the commodities marked on dumpsters around base, the Recycling Center handles items such as lead-acid batteries and pallets.
If Wright-Patterson AFB personnel aren’t sure if an object, item or material has recycle value, they can bring it by the facility for evaluation, Doucette says.
“If it is what we can recycle, we’re more than happy to help,” he added. “If we can
't, then we can direct them to where they need to go with that item. We try to not only recycle but also give good customer service and an education at the same time.”