Goals set for Keesler's new recycling contractor

From left, Mr. Robertson, Duane Olson and Douglas Houle work to empty a cardboard recycling bin to prepare the cardboard for binding into bales. Zero Waste Solutions collects a variety of recyclables and sells it to local processing companies.
Proceeds collected from the sale is given back to the government.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

From left, Mr. Robertson, Duane Olson and Douglas Houle work to empty a cardboard recycling bin to prepare the cardboard for binding into bales. Zero Waste Solutions collects a variety of recyclables and sells it to local processing companies. Proceeds collected from the sale is given back to the government. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Having been reused and recycled since the 1940s, the building that houses the recycling center off Chappie James Avenue is the perfect home for Zero Waste Solutions, Keesler's new solid waste management and recycling contractor.

"The chair I'm sitting in is reused," said Doug Smith, Zero Waste Solutions project manager. "In fact, every piece of furniture in this office is being reused."

In keeping with Keesler's efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, Zero Waste Solutions has been charged with obtaining the federally-mandated goals of recycling 40 percent of all trash by year's end and 50 percent by the end of 2015.

According to Mr. Smith, when it took over waste collection and recycling efforts in October, the base was averaging around 13-15 percent recycling rate. At the end of last quarter, Zero Waste Solutions had doubled that, achieving approximately 27 percent.

Zero Waste Solutions, together with subcontractor Mark Dunning Industries, collects roughly 400 tons of trash per month. Only 160 tons gets recycled -- the rest still ends up in the landfill. However, since October, Mr. Smith estimates that more than 850 tons of trash has been recycled.

"It's getting better, but we have a long way to go," Mr. Smith points out. "The biggest challenge is getting the word out to the base and educating them on how to recycle, what can and can't be recycled and setting up a program to follow."

There's not much Zero Waste Solutions can't recycle. Paper, shredded paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and toner cartridges can be picked up from the buildings or base housing. Electronics, scrap wood, metal, glass, dirt and concrete can be dropped off at the recycling center. Around-the-clock drop-off locations are at the recycling center and in the parking lot behind the Commissary off Meadows Drive. Old furniture can be dropped off as well, which Zero Waste Solutions will try to resell. Also, certain food waste is now being collected and taken to a 100-acre site in Louisiana where it's turned into compost.

All proceeds from the sale of recyclables to local processing facilities goes back to the government. Zero Waste Solutions doesn't receive a dime of this money as they are already retained by a fixed contract with the government.

The more Zero Waste Solutions reduces, reuses and recycles, the more money the company makes for the government. The purer each category of recyclable remains, the higher the price. For example, if paper doesn't have shredded paper mixed in, it gets a higher price. Mr. Smith and his team of trash removal technicians often sort through and separate what they can, but they'd rather keep that to a minimum.

Pete Robertson, route recycling specialist, has seen the good, bad and the ugly when he makes his biweekly recycling pickups.

"The weather center probably has the best program and is organized well," said Mr. Robertson. "Then I'll get to the next building and spend 30-45 minutes sorting through it all. Some buildings I just want to turn around and go home."

Mr. Smith has been making the rounds, going from building to building, showing personnel how to set up a workable recycling program.

"It just takes one person at each building who's willing to take charge and implement a recycling program to make it work." said Mr. Smith.

Airman 1st Class Jackie Bonkoski, 334th Training Squadron, was that one person at Avery Manor. She and her fellow students took it upon themselves to call Mr. Smith and inquire about how to set up a recycling program. They got all the proper bins and put them in the right location and made posters to hang above them describing what each bin was for. Then Airman Bonkoski wrote down the recycling rules and procedures specific to Avery Manor and put it in a three-ring binder to hand down to the next generation of students.

"I pick up more recycling at Avery Manor now than I do in the entire Triangle," said Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Smith acknowledges that the recycling awareness and interest is increasing steadily. Instead of two people a month coming to him to ask about recycling, he now gets around two people a week. As word spreads and with incentive plans in the works, he's optimistic that Keesler will reach its recycling goals.

"The best advice I have is that it has to become routine," said Mr. Smith. "When people get into a routine, recycling is easy."

For more information on the recycling program at Keesler, call Zero Waste Solutions, 377-4546.