Single-Stream Salute

Fort Bliss becomes the first U.S. Army installation to offer comprehensive single-stream recycling.

In 2004, Lilia Lenhart assumed responsibility for the Fort Bliss Recycling Center as part of the installation's solid waste program. Fort Bliss is an Army post located in El Paso, Texas, and is currently transitioning to a forces command post. The recycling center was operating in the red with cardboard stacked to the ceiling and a questionable future. Lenhart, an environmental engineer with the Fort Bliss Directorate of Public Works (DPW), borrowed $5,000 from another program and began the arduous task of rebuilding the only recycling center located in far west Texas. It would take a great deal of effort to turn things around, but after adding a couple of full-time employees, a baler and utilizing federal inmates as supplementary labor, the recyclables were baled and sent to market.

Four years later, the Fort Bliss Recycling Center was in the black. But traditional, sort-recycling collection was yielding a paltry 8 percent diversion rate at the installation. That is when Lenhart began to formulate a plan for raising the diversion rate with a single-stream collection process.

With about two years of capacity left at the Fort Bliss landfill and a looming 40 percent diversion mandate from the federal government, drastic measures were required. The recycling center did not have the manpower or the equipment to manage the anticipated increase in recyclables generated by single-stream collection. Many entities and partners had to come together to make it work.

The first step toward making single stream a reality at Fort Bliss was the city of El Paso's transition to residential recycling in 2007. This was facilitated by the city's partnership with Friedman Recycling. This Arizona company built a materials recovery facility capable of handling large amounts of mixed recyclables. Once that was in place, Fort Bliss was positioned to build on the city's success. But the Fort Bliss program would have to target administration, retail outlets, partner organizations and motor pools. Once launched, the Fort Bliss single-stream recycling program would make Fort Bliss the first U.S. Army installation to go single stream for all entities, including administration, retail outlets, partner organizations and units.

The Fort Bliss DPW became an integral partner, providing the necessary financial support and altering current custodial contracts to include the collection of recyclables, as well as garbage. The custodial contractor would collect the recyclables and deposit them into the more than 600 blue dumpsters now dotting the entire installation, eliminating the need for personnel to carry recyclables to a recycling point in their area and making it much more convenient to recycle.

The next task was educating the community and engaging them as partners in the new program. The teaser promotion “IT ONLY TAKES ONE!” was unveiled. This portion of the campaign was designed to generate curiosity and spark conversation about what the slogan might mean. Information blanketed the community: banners appeared at the Fort Bliss entrances, post exchange, commissary and entertainment locales; flyers were distributed at the local convenience stores; articles were published in The Monitor (the Fort Bliss weekly newspaper); and postings on the base's online message boards touted “IT ONLY TAKES ONE!”

After two months, the slogan was expanded to “IT ONLY TAKES ONE BIN,” and single-stream recycling launched with a promise of greater diversion numbers. Three months after implementing the program, Fort Bliss realized a 62 percent increase over the traditional, sort-collection process practiced for years.

While increasing recycling by 62 percent is impressive, the cost benefit has yet to be determined. It will take some time to weigh cost benefit versus cost incurred for single-stream recycling. However, one of the main premises behind recycling is that the costs incurred for recycling are offset by avoiding waste disposal and landfill costs. Cost benefit versus actual costs has been widely debated and should be based on the needs of the individual community.

Ultimately, for Fort Bliss, it is future cost avoidance that is paramount. If the installation does not extend the life of its landfill, it will eventually incur additional costs, such as fuel and tipping fees to landfill elsewhere. Therefore, the increased numbers of recyclables collected in just three short months support the argument that recycling is a cost benefit and ultimately a cost avoidance. As Fort Bliss tracks this trend over the next year, the environmental division will be able to determine those numbers exactly. For now, Fort Bliss recycling supporters revel in the fact that the community is responding to this “call to action” and doing its part.

Terri Smythe oversees marketing for the environmental division of the Fort Bliss Directorate of Public Works.

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