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Program aims to help Tinker ‘Reduce, reuse and recycle’

Cody Simpson, with the 72nd Force Support Squadron, moves a mountain of cardboard into a crusher earlier this year at the Tinker Recycling Center, Bldg. 1156 on the south side of base. Approximately 16 tons of cardboard a month are kept out of landfills by Tinker personnel and base residents who chose to recycle rather than discard. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Cody Simpson, with the 72nd Force Support Squadron, moves a mountain of cardboard into a crusher earlier this year at the Tinker Recycling Center, Bldg. 1156 on the south side of base. Approximately 16 tons of cardboard a month are kept out of landfills by Tinker personnel and base residents who chose to recycle rather than discard. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Concepts of sustainable and natural living have found a comfortable niche within American consumer culture. The mantra "reduce, reuse and recycle" serves as a reminder to pay attention to how you utilize and discard waste.

The first step in the process is to reduce your waste, either by reducing the amount you consume or reducing the amount of waste that is blindly thrown in the trash can. Next, examine to see if the product can be reused -- if not by you then somebody else. Finally, if the first two options are impossible, Randy Joiner, Qualified Recycling Program operations director, is able to assist Tinker patrons in recycling a portion of those discarded products.

Mr. Joiner began working with QRP in 1986 after a friend working at the recycling facility told him about the job. His entry-level position of picking up loose paper for recycling around base has turned into an appreciation for the environment he did not expect.
"Why throw something away that's going to clog up landfills if you can recycle it and it turn it back into other reusable materials," Mr. Joiner asked.

In 1990, the Pollution Prevention Act formally established a national policy to "prevent or reduce pollution at its source whenever feasible," which includes promoting source reduction and recycling. One year later, President George H.W. Bush signed Executive Order 12780, which mandates all federal agencies to promote, integrate, establish and encourage cost-effective waste reduction and recycling programs.

Mr. Joiner said the program at Tinker began with metal collection, followed by paper. Today, office paper, newsprint, all non-aircraft metal and non-shiny cardboard are required materials to recycle on base. The QRP also collects printer toner cartridges, aluminum and metal cans.

The facility is operated by Mr. Joiner and five other workers who sort and organize all recycled material dropped off at the center. Monthly operational costs for the program are approximately $30,000, which covers salaries, materials, trucks and operating costs associated with the program. Environmental Management has provided start-up equipment for program, including forklifts and other equipment necessary to complete daily operations.

The Tinker QRP is self supported by funding received through the materials gathered and recycled, but without metal recycling Mr. Joiner said the program would not exist. Without the recycling program, Mr. Joiner added, the civil engineering department would have to pay out of pocket to transfer all recyclable materials to a municipal dump. Together, Civil Engineering and QRP work hand in hand to support the recycling mission on Tinker.

The main recycling center is open 24-hours and sits atop a hill in the center of base. It has large metal hoppers for patrons to bring glass, metal, cardboard, paper, newsprint and plastic. Plastic recycling is a big problem because people do not know the base can only recycle number 2 plastics and they throw any plastic in the bin to be recycled, Mr. Joiner said. Every day somebody will come in with something they think can be recycled and he said he will have to find a way to put it back into the waste stream where it can be reused again.

"People think they can bring any kind of plastic to recycle, but that is not the case," he added. "People will bring Hot Wheels and plastic bags from a grocery store, but we can't recycle those."

Mr. Joiner said four years ago, QRP relied on EM to pay its bills. Within the last two or three years, he said recycling metal has allowed QRP to be self sustaining. Recycled scrap metal is taken downtown and sold to the highest bidder and covers the majority of operational costs for the program. QRP will take anything from old metal garage doors, metal from desks, file cabinets, junk metal to I-beams out of buildings, but is forbidden to recycle any metal from an aircraft. Mr. Joiner said he does not see a piece of trash or scrap metal, he sees dollar signs.

"Nothing makes money here but metal," he said. "If anybody has any metal, don't throw it away because I want it. That's how we make our money. If I don't have metal, then we don't survive."

Glass recycled at the center is separated into green, brown and clear, then crushed. The glass is then taken downtown by recycling facility operators to sell to the highest bidder. Mr. Joiner said glass is difficult to recycle, but it does help the environment and the center receives small financial benefits.

Abitibi hoppers set out across the base in strategic locations are used to recycle low-grade paper. The unmistakable green and yellow dumpsters serve as a large paper recycling location that accepts newspaper, magazines, envelopes and almost any type of paper, except phone books. Abitibi sends a collection truck once every two weeks and picks up paper from the bins located at the QRP, BX parking lot and the mailroom. The QRP is reimbursed for the total weight of paper picked up from the base.

Mr. Joiner said phone books have become a nuisance in paper collection bins. Phone books are comprised of the lowest form of recycled paper and cannot be broken down to be recycled again. He recommends taking old or unused phone books to the companies who issue them for recycling.

White-paper recycling in offices has become another struggle for Mr. Joiner and his crew. He dedicates two people to collect more than 400 barrels of white paper on a weekly schedule from offices around base. He urges people who call to have office paper removed more than once a week to be patient. He said interrupting the scheduled pick-up times only delays pick-up from other offices.

Shredded paper takes up more room in a bin than non-shredded paper, which lays flat in the bin, he added. Mr. Joiner wants to remind everybody shredded paper must be in a plastic bag and to try and keep the bins as clean as possible.

"Our funds are limited and I have two guys going across the whole base picking up every barrel all week long," he said. "If there are spit cans and trash in the bins then our guys won't pick it up because we can't pour that into our cages and contaminate the rest of the paper with the trash in the barrels.

"We are trying and doing the best we can with what we have," he said. "I get calls and complaints they missed us or we need them to come back. If we have to pull them off their schedule, it hurts somebody else who did not get picked up. We are trying to get fully integrated into shredded paper, which takes several trips in and out of buildings because shredded paper takes up more room in the bins."

Curbside recycling is picked up every Thursday in the housing area through a contract with Balfour Beatty Communities, who provides community management services for base housing. The items collected in housing include aluminum cans, glass and newsprint. However, other materials can be recycled at other collection points on base.
According to Mr. Joiner, the key to recycling is sorting, and the best way to sort is at the source. When opening an item with excessive packaging, he said separating everything at that time is the ideal way to sort recyclable materials. He added it is more labor intensive for the QRP if they have to sort at the facility.

"If we set up a metal hopper, people will put wire, steel and aluminum in it. Then we have to separate it all out because it's all worth something different," he said. "If the materials are mixed together it's not worth much, but if it's separate it's worth everything."

Mr. Joiner said he likes the fact he is contributing to saving the environment for future generations, and would like to see program do more than the current volume of collection. He said working at the QRP is a new adventure each day.

"I would like to see 100 percent recycling here on base," Mr. Joiner said. "I know that's a hard goal to achieve, but I know it would be nice to do that. The main thing keeping us back is funding and we're struggling with everybody else. I've tried to gear the program around metal. If I can make money with metal then that will open more avenues for recycling other types of material."

For information about recycling gently used electronics, visit Militaryrecycling.com.