By Jason L. AustinJuly 22, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany Aca,!" Residents in 10 family housing buildings in Heidelberg have walked through a six-week education process designed to significantly reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that has to be incinerated.
The pilot project, called "Rumbling Rubbish/Keep It Green" was developed by Heidelberg Recycling Manager Travis Vowinkel, and with the support of the Environmental Division, the pilot program was launched.
In Heidelberg, the Army's non-recyclable waste disposal costs U.S. taxpayers 568 euro per ton. During fiscal year 2006, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg alone spent $2.4 million on non-recycled waste disposal, according to Daniel Welch, chief, USAG Heidelberg Directorate of Public Works-Environmental Division.
Conversely, recyclable waste costs between 66 and 306 euro per ton, depending on the type of recyclables, with an overall cost to U.S. taxpayers in FY06 of $1 million.
During what Welch called a Dumpster-diving expedition, environmental specialists went through the contents of a non-recyclable container and determined that 80 percent of the trash could be recycled and a further 5 percent could have been recycled if it hadn't been mixed with non-recyclable trash.
With this in mind and in an effort to cut costs, Vowinkel proposed reducing the size of non-recyclable containers (black containers marked restmAfA1/4ll) at recycling islands throughout Heidelberg's family housing areas.
The size of the container impacts the cost because the city of Heidelberg charges the Army based on each container pickup.
Additionally, if non-recyclable trash is found in a recyclable container, the whole container is deemed non-recyclable.
A change in mindset
In order to make the change, staff from the Environmental Division had to educate those families in the pilot audience.
The education process went far beyond a flyer or brochure, Welch said.
Staff members met with each family and walked them through the recycling process that results in the least amount of non-recyclable waste.
They, along with Heidelberg city sanitation workers, then monitored and tracked each family's progress using a color-coded score board system for each recycling island to indicate success and in some cases failure.
When a building didn't meet the standard, DPW staff members sent letters and offered support.
The program is ongoing, but initial cost estimates show that if 75 percent of housing units were able to use the smaller container, an estimated $427,000 per year could be saved.
With such a marked improvement in both natural resource conservation and cost savings, the program was adopted as a Lean Six Sigma project.
What is LSS'
Simply put, Lean Six Sigma is "a methodology focused around process improvement," according to Sonya Draught, plans specialist with USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Plans, Analysis and Integration Office.
In the private sector, the Lean and Six Sigma business models were developed separately. The Lean model was developed to make things more efficient by getting rid of extra time, Draught said. The Six Sigma model focuses on getting rid of deficiencies.
The two models were merged to both eliminate wasted time and improve the end product.
The Army's goal with LSS is, according to Draught, "to make the employee work better and provide a better product to the customer."
Drought sees the effect of LSS in USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg as being threefold.
First, LSS enables employees to provide the best possible services to customers.
Second, LSS will make employees work better by improving how they work, which will lead to more empowered employees.
And third, LSS helps the command find better ways to save money.
LSS in Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg
The LSS program has had a gradual implementation throughout the Installation Management Command-Europe over the past two years, but for a period of time, Draught said, the Lean Six Sigma program in Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg was limited because her office faced a large attrition rate, leaving no one to guide the program.
Now she says they are back at full staff with five new personnel, and they are working to get back to speed.
Right now she said there are a few projects in the works, and several of them have gone over the recommended time line, so Col. Robert Ulses, commander, USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg, has placed a 60-day limit on these projects to either complete or stop the project based on its merits.
Of the ongoing projects, Draught said three are in their final phase and others, like the Rumbling RubbishKeep it Green project, are expected to move through the LSS phases quickly.
Recently, Draught said her office has solicited the garrison directorates for more ideas.
"If you have an idea that makes things better, that's something for Lean Six Sigma," Draught said.
"For the average worker, you know your process and you can think about 'how can I improve this and get the product to the customer better and faster.' There is a lot of the voice of the customer in Lean Six Sigma."
The PAIO accepts ideas for Lean Six Sigma anytime, and Draught says it doesn't matter how big or how small a project seems. She said there are what they call just-do-it projects, where the project is carried out quickly over a day or two, and doesn't follow a standard LSS methods, but her office can document the project and its benefit.
Another type of project is called Rapid Improvement Events, which take one to two weeks and follow LSS methodology.
The way ahead
The Rumbling Rubbish/Keep It Green project will soon enter into the next phase of 10 more buildings, Welch said, with an eventual goal of having every housing unit on board.
If fully implemented throughout USAG Heidelberg, the project could see a cost savings of $600,000 per year.
"We don't always look at money," Draught said, "but customer satisfaction, which also means a lot to the garrison."
Since soliciting for more ideas, Draught said her office has received more than 20 ideas and is continuing to accept more.
An Executive Quality Council meeting is scheduled for today, where the council will review each idea for its merit and prioritize them.
Draught said she expects to leave the EQC with half of the ideas ready to be implemented using LSS methods.
"During the next couple of months," Draught said, "we'll see some real changes to LSS in the garrison."
(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)