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Recycling center puts McChord on the map

Eva Carmona, a visitor to McChord's Recycling center, places paper products into one of several containers located in the center's parking lot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Eva Carmona, a visitor to McChord's Recycling center, places paper products into one of several containers located in the center's parking lot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Darrly Slack sorts through recyclable corrugated boxes and places them on a conveyer belt to be compacted and moved to the warehouse staging area. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Darrly Slack sorts through recyclable corrugated boxes and places them on a conveyer belt to be compacted and moved to the warehouse staging area. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Curtis Carlisle, working in the Recycling center warehouse, prepares to load bales of mixed paper onto a trailer for transport to a local vendor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

Curtis Carlisle, working in the Recycling center warehouse, prepares to load bales of mixed paper onto a trailer for transport to a local vendor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- As the conveyor belt deposits pieces of cardboard down a long chute into the heart of the bright-colored blue baler, the 30 horsepower electric motor springs to life and prepares the giant hydraulic press to transform the individual pieces into tightly compressed and neatly tied 1,600 pound bales.

After the bales are extruded from the baler, a forklift transports them across the yard to a warehouse where they are housed with other bales of mixed paper, shrink wrap and used clothing before they are shipped out.

The process is a snapshot of daily life at McChord's recycling center. Each day employees at the center gather, sort and package everything from everyday items like milk cartons, glass bottles and aluminum cans to bulky items like electronics, computers, washers and dryers. The center also has several large containers used to store large amounts of yard waste until it can be transported for composting.

A contracted company takes care of the center's day-to-day operations, including picking up all of the recycling bags and containers from the many on-base locations, as well as the commissary and the curbside pickup in base housing.

"Very few bases have the kind of facility that what we have," said environmental flight chief, Michael Grenko, of the 62nd CES.

What McChord does have is a top-notch facility that saved the base over $400,000 in refuse disposal costs during the 2007 fiscal year. The recycling center was able to divert over 68 percent of the base's solid waste from going to the landfill, well above the Department of Defense's goal of 40 percent and Air Mobility Command's goal of 60 percent for installations.

Since the environmental flight has been able to maintain continuity within its ranks, it has been able to steadily provide educational materials to Team McChord, and to continuously improve operations at the center, keeping track of recycling participation rates across the based, and recording all recycling proceeds, Mr. Grenko said.

Improvements include doubling the amount of bins accepting recyclable items in front of the center, adding to the number of cardboard collection trailers around the base and increasing the scope of items that the center accepts, said quality assurance manager Doug Skitch, 62nd CES.

"You have to make it convenient, easy and quick for people to participate when it comes to recycling," Mr. Skitch said.

"You're seeing all kinds of piles of yard debris disappearing from all over the base because we can compost it," Mr. Grenko said.

The staff goes to great lengths to find new materials that can be recycled -- even if it means going dumpster diving, Mr. Skitch said.

By expanding the scope of materials that the McChord recycle center accepts, producing and distributing a steady stream of informational brochures about the center and touting the environmental benefits of recycling, Mr. Grenko said he hopes to drive the waste-diversion rate up even higher.

"Our purpose is to continue to support the 62d AW mission through a recycling program that truly sustains the environment," he said.
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