RICHMOND, Ky. - Officials at the Blue Grass Army Depot and a Kentucky recycling company believe in recycling - and keeping unwanted items out of landfills.

Starting almost six years ago, BGAD and the Bluegrass Regional Recycling Corporation, a statewide nonprofit agency, implemented a successful recycling program focusing on the plastic tubes and textile straps discarded during renovation of 30 mm containers. Today, the partnership has an even more successful effort surrounding the recycling of Chemical Defense Equipment JSLIST rubber boots and gloves. Both successes have contributed in part to BRRC being recognized by the national American Forest & Paper Association with one of their Business Leadership Recycling Awards.

Each program has its own story, with the 30 mm tube and strap tale beginning in late 2001.

"It looked like it had snowed at DRMO," was how BGAD Maintenance Area Foreman Richard Krossber described the scene at BGAD in late 2001.

BGAD had just been workloaded with the renovation of thousands of 30 mm containers, complete with 575 heavy-duty white plastic shell tubes per can. Prior to BGAD, the cans had been processed at Savanna Army Depot Activity before its closure in 2000. The workload was good for BGAD, but the plastic tube and textile strap byproducts quickly became a big concern. It only took a few basic calculations for BGAD officials to figure out they had a "whiteout" problem on their hands.

"That first year we knew that as many as 6,000 cans were coming our way," recalls Krossber, "which meant we were looking at processing, transporting and dumping over three million tubes in a landfill the first year alone. This was before we started our continuous improvement program, but we knew we had to do something different. Since plastic is a prime recyclable product, we just had to find the right recycling partner and develop a better process."

Mickey Mills, executive director of BRRC, met with BGAD officials and helped develop a recycling program that began in March of 2002.

"At the time, we didn't have the capabilities to handle the tubes and straps, so we started by transporting the tubes to a Carolina operator," says Mills. "Soon after, we developed a processing system to recycle the materials for markets throughout the nation. However, the really big benefit for us was the opportunity to develop a business relationship with BGAD and expanding our capabilities. What we did back then has helped us pursue other business with BGAD, such as the very successful CDE boots and gloves recycling program. Both programs have been a real win-win situation."

However, all was not perfect at the start of the tube and strap recycling effort. Initially, BGAD simply filled a dumpster with tube and strap assemblies and turned it over to BRRC. It was quickly discovered that not all of the 30 mm tubes dumped from the 30 mm cans were empty.

"We had a situation where a live shell was still in the tube when it was forwarded to our facility," reports Mills. "With so many thousands of tube and strap assemblies, it was impossible for us to visually inspect every tube, so we asked BGAD to come up with a way to sort out the shells before we accepted the tubes and straps."

The BGAD solution was simple but effective. They designed an aluminum-framed funnel on top of a long, narrow table upon which all the tubes and straps could easily slide along after removing them from the can. The table is wide enough to hold a tube and strap assembly along with a shell. But the aluminum "funnel" is only wide enough to let an empty tube pass through. So far, the handmade sorter is working flawlessly, and not adding significant processing time.

After being "funneled," the tubes and straps are dumped into a compactor that feeds a large roll-off dumpster. When full, the dumpster weighs between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds, depending on the weather, since plastic tubes don't compact as much as during the colder weather.

BRRC reports that during the last year, nearly a million pounds, or 158 dumpster loads, had been collected and transported for recycling. According to Mills, that resulted in a cost avoidance of approximately $56,000 in landfill charges.

Today, BGAD processes 3,000 to 4,000 30 mm cans a year, an average of two million tubes. Over the past six years, 12 to 14 million tubes have been kept out of landfills and re-used for a multitude of new plastic-based products. Even better, it stopped "snowing" at DRMO.

CDE boot and glove recycling began in 2006. By that time, BGAD's continuous improvement efforts were well underway, so a more formalized pilot program kicked off the program.

"Prior to the pilot, the rubber boots and gloves were transported from Blue Grass to a Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service facility in Ohio for accountability and then hauled to a landfill," said Joseph Haupert, chief of BGAD's chemical defense equipment. "Nothing was being reused. We had transportation costs with no recovery."

Through its continuous improvement initiatives, the depot saw right away the benefits of this latest recycling program.

"Rubber boots and gloves are recyclable items that if demilitarized properly, can be sold to private industry for reuse," he said. "Plus, recycling is an environmentally friendly process."

In August 2006, BGAD shipped five truckloads of rubber boots and gloves to Ohio for processing and disposal at a total cost of $34,093. Under the recycling program, that same truckload cost $8,400, for a savings of approximately $25,000.

Haupert said BGAD received the rubber boots and gloves for a number of reasons: expired shelf life, used and obsolete items.

"We have three uses for the recycled material," said Mickey Mills. "Of course mulch and landscaping material. Second, we use it as crumb rubber for running tracks, tennis courts walking trails - things of that nature. Also, we will take some of the material and use it for playground cover."

Charles Parrish, the BRRC plant manager, explained the process during a tour of the plant. The boots and gloves arrived at the plant in cardboard boxes.

"The boots and gloves are inventoried," Parrish said. "We separate the rubber from paper, plastic, and cardboard. The plastic we send to companies for plastic lumber and the paper to insulation companies. From there the gloves and boots are put onto a sorting line before going through a grinder. The end users tell us what form they want it in."

Parrish said about 10 employees work on the boots and gloves line.

Mills also lauded another aspect of the program - providing jobs for formally incarcerated persons.

"Our recycling program is a career development program," Mills said. "We work with inmates on their last leg of coming out of institutionalized programs, individuals who are on their way out and pose a minimum security risk. We've been doing this for eight years, helping them learn skills such as operating a Bobcat, forklift, or even obtaining their CDL Class "A" trucking license. We help them understand working on a job site and about teamwork. We've had good success with the program."

Echoing Mills earlier comment, Haupert said the recycling program is a win-win situation and is only just the beginning.

"These processes make us stewards of the environment. Socially, we're supporting a work release program and economically we're saving the government money. Another benefit in moving the material is that it frees up valuable storage space," Haupert said.

The program's success has led to approval for BGAD to receive more CDE items from other depots and commands.

"The main thing about the effort is we're working on a zero-waste program, thus helping the environment," Haupert concluded.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16