Talk about a catchy conference title:
Recycling lands on FBI’s most-wanted list
While it might not go as far as Don’t Mess With Texas, this does allow one one to imagine a crumpled aluminum can on a Post Office poster alongside a mass murderer.
This was the title for the first presentation in the GreenGov panel discussion on “Managing Waste & Recycling Programs”. With presentations from the FBI, Department of the Army, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this session provided windows on the opportunities, challenges, and results of recycling efforts across multiple federal agencies.
After the fold, notes from the session along with some thoughts:
Catherine Shaw, from the FBI’s HQ staff, spoke to the challenges to and progress in the FBI’s three year old effort to improve the FBI’s record when it comes to recycling and reducing waste products.
When it comes to challenges, a number of key ones:
· Very diverse agency footprint, from the large central office, to leased office space, to hangars, to crime labs … with some 500 “overt facilities” that operate under different business models (owned, leased, sub-tenant)
· The FBI has 56 divisions/elements who often play as “fiefdoms and they often don’t want to work together”.
· With so many offices and divisions, the responsibility for these programs is almost always a collateral duty.
· The Bureau culture: Simply put, the standard question of “what does this have to do with our mission?”
· Security challenges. FBI papers are pulverized, to protect security, into something that is not easily recycled.
Yet, there are the successes with recycling rates increasing, data tracking improving understanding of FBI recycling streams, and the FBI is working to establish a process for recouping revenues from recycling to move the financial benefits from the general funds back into the FBI system (if not the individual offices) to help incentivize increased
Comment: Shaw provided an interesting perspective on the challenges of working with a complex operating organization to drive change toward a more efficient and lower waste operations.
Wanda Johnson, from the U.S. Army spoke on the U.S. Army’s “New Zero Initiative: zero solid waste to landfills.”
· The Net Zero Initiative strives for to ‘zero waste’ rather than ‘simply’ the Executive Order’s diversion target of 50 percent reduction.
· Six pilot installations on water, waste, or energy plus two doing all three
· Waste reduction focused on
o improved purchasing processes to reduce waste:
§ Which is leading to single point ordering on bases.
§ Seeking, for example, to eliminate individual packaging.
§ MREs: developers working on biodegradable packaging
§ Furniture: rather than lowest purchase price but looking to long-term lifecycle implications
o Looking at practices
§ For example, troops at Ft Polk conducted air drop exercises which included dropping pallets of meals ready to eat (MREs). When done, any damaged pallets became solid waste. Ft Polk switched to using ‘surrogates’ that aren’t actual MREs and thus eliminating that waste.
· My question from the audience: What was the $ saving from this? [Note that MREs are, well, expensive. Each pallet of MREs is over $1000. (48 cartons per pallet of 12 MREs each at about $50 for each carton.))
A: Don’t know. We had actually been looking to donate the MREs from damaged boxes but were told that there is a legal problem. [A WTF moment in terms of legality trumping sanity. If you haven’t ever seen them upfront, the MRE packages are quite durable and it is unlikely that many actual meals were contaminated even when the overall pallet might have been broken with damaged cartons.]
· Re-Purposing of products (at end of ‘service’ life)
o Bases have “re-use centers”
o Donations to charitable organizations
§ Ft Carson found path to donate end-of-life furniture in something that engaged a regional coalition to maximize reuse potential
o Installation recycling vary from 24% to 68% based on states/base locations/etc
o Created incentive programs for units to compete based on recycling achievements (winning passes for free movies, …)
o Doing well with recycling of C&D (construction and demolition) debris
o Challenge of personal electronics recycling
· Will only go to energy recovery (e.g., burning waste for energy) after maximizing avoidance and diversion – only where economically feasible. Last resort after other economically-feasible efforts are implemented
· Material flow analysis done at pilot facilities – found that pallets, for example, were being handled poorly. Buying new pallets by one base element with another responsible for recycling rather than reusing pallets. Food waste to composting is an issue — can food waste be reduced and can wasted food be composted rather than put in landfills.
From the audience, an interesting question:
“How and why did the Army decide to go well past the Executive Order and target Net Zero (in energy, water, and waste)?”
The answer, in essence, Army culture:
· The Army Three-Star who ran installations saw the target and determined that he wanted to do better.
· Generals are highly competitive
o Had over 50 installations volunteer
o They are trying to top each other
o We were happily surprised, we worried that we might not even have a single volunteer base when this started
§ Army leadership told installation commanders that they wouldn’t get another dollar to execute this
· Even with the competitive nature, the Army is also highly cooperative. Success stories are being shared between installations and local governments with best practices moving quickly across the Army community. The Army (and, therefore, the taxpayer) is starting to see financial benefits of this.
Comment: Again, an interesting window on culture within an organization. The U.S. Army has gone, in the past few years, through a tremendous transition. It is hard to imagine, just a few years ago, that Army officers would speak with true passion and knowledge about base energy, water, and waste efficiency. At last year’s Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting, the panel on energy issues was attended by well over 1000 people and those on the panel – which included multiple generals – demonstrated that great passion and knowledge along with a willingness to learn from each other and those attending the session. Few in the country understand how seriously the uniformed military is starting to taking energy and waste issues. For operational capability, resiliency against threats (manmade or natural), and financial values, ever more uniformed personnel are becoming advocates of what too many pigeon hole as some form of “eco-nazi green police” as opposed to simply Energy Smart practices. The U.S. military is transforming itself – in part because of Obama Administration leadership but the transformation had began prior to the Administration (for example, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) formed the Navy’s Task Force Energy – with a focus on improving operational capabilities through energy smart practices and investments – during the Bush Administration) – and doing so for fundamental reasons where reduced pollution benefits will be real but, in many ways, simply peripheral to the military’s real benefit streams. And, having the American public understand how the military (and, in this case, the Army’s Net Zero Initiative) is approaching these issues could well be critical to changing the national discussion and approaches for the better.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Jean Schwab, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke about food in the waste stream. A simple (and perhaps distressing) fact:
Food waste is now the #1 waste going into nation’s landfills.
This is occurring for a number of reasons, including success at reducing other waste streams (both due to reduced waste and increased recycling) and an ever more wasteful food system. Simply put, “waste = inefficiency” and this food waste is reasonable to look at with distress for a number of reasons from malnutrition to environmental impact to money terms. Simply put, this waste represents a lot of money – spending money for the materials and then spending money to dispose of it.
Now, this material is going into landfills. No matter the wordings on the packaging, when it comes to landfills,
“there is no “away” even for biodegradables and compostables … it is basically sitting in a time capsule if it goes in a landfill. It doesn’t magically become one with nature. If you’re buying compostable products, make sure that it goes into a composting.”
o An example from the Army: mess halls with perfectly edible oranges / apples being thrown out because recruits didn’t have time to eat them. Once touched, they couldn’t be ‘cleaned’ and put out for food. Thus, issue for how to reduce the waste. One path that greatly reduces waste is to eliminate trays.
· Food waste is very quick methane release at landfills
· We’re taking care of easy stuff (paper, metals) leaving food
· Organics (food) is the only thing that we have that can be truly sustainable in a cycle
· Food Recovery Hierarchy
o Source reduction:
§ Virginia Tech went to tray-less dining resulted in 38% less food waste – now occurring at buffets
o Feed Hungry People
§ Walmart donated 128,000 tons in 2010 – 197 million meal equivalents
§ Expect roughly 500,000 tons in 2013 – 800 million meals
§ Note that Wal-Mart has used this process to identify paths to reduce the waste
· For example, used milk donations as a path to identify better purchase & sales to reduce the amount of milk purchased per gallon sold in the store
o Feed Animals
§ A local thing
§ Requires food stream purification
o Industrial uses (biofuels)
o Incineration or Landfill
· Note “waste” or “Cradle to grave” but “cradle to cradle” – “Sustainable Food Management” –
o Thinking about where the material ultimately ends up
o Note the huge amount of cost for putting food down the disposal: not just at the sink but also at the water treatment facility
· Reducing solid wastes going into the pipes will improve the life-cycle of the water treatment system (even though there are some sewage treatment facility require carbon content) through, for example, reducing the number of clogged pipes.
Adding waste food into biodigester will lead to improve anerobic production (such as methane in cattle waste)
Every 1% increase of organic material in land, there is 16,000 gallon improvement in an acre’s ability to retain water. Moving from 1% to 6% will increase health of plants due, in part, better water retention.
Comments: Very interesting discussion about food in the waste stream, about the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills,
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
Dr. Robert Wingo, Los Alamos National Labs, “Solid Waste Challenges Arising from Water Conservation and Reuse”
Wingo opened his presentation highlighting how he represented a different perspective: the scientific researcher representing a national laboratory. He also pointed out that, at times, removing waste from the system can create a problem and, in fact, LANL had to put in additional biomass into its water stream (actually using dog food for awhile) for the sanitation facility to work effectively.
· LANL is figuring out how to make biodiesel from their sewage waste. Note that they are injecting waste from biodiesel production into sewage system to improve processes. Using cleaned water to support cooling towers for cooling towers and therefore reducing LANL’s demand on the acquifer.
· LANL guaranteed that it would not increased demands on acquifer to support super computing.
o Their water source (groundwater) has significant silica. They precipitate the silica into sludge.
§ Meaning 5000 metric tons / year of silica sludge. And, now transforming the material to insert into concrete to reduce concrete demand.
§ Precipitating the silica with putting magnesium (and some iron) into the water stream
· Note the synergy of LANL having the range of engineers / scientists engaged to come up with innovative solutions
· LANL uses composted materials to help remediate areas seriously damaged by forest fires
NOTE: Wingo’s presentation truly spoke to the innovative power of unleashing the scientists at DOE’s national laboratories on real-world problems.