FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 11, 2016) -- Fort Drum was the first stop Aug. 4 during a sustainable materials management tour, presented by the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center.
The post's environmental and waste management professionals spoke with nearly 20 local subject-matter experts, representatives and educators at the Waste Transfer Station about Fort Drum's recycling and composting programs, and what recently has been added to help the post reach its Net Zero Waste goals.

"It's a big operation, but it's always a work in progress," said Anthony Reali, manager of the solid waste program in the Environmental Division. "Every time you put something new in place, there's always something you have to monitor and have eyes on so you're following all the rules and regulations."

He noted that the new polystyrene densifier at the Recycling Center has processed about 2,300 pounds of Styrofoam material in little over a year. The machine has a 60-to-1 capability ratio, meaning that they can compact 60 dumpsters worth of polystyrene into one.

"We're pretty happy about it, because it keeps that material out of the landfill," he said. "It's an awesome machine."

One attendee didn't realize that polystyrene could be recycled, and Reali said that some companies will reuse the material for products like picture frames and ceiling tiles. He added that a significant amount needs to be accumulated before a buyer will make a trip to collect.

Another attendee asked if melting, rather than compacting the material was considered, and Reali said that after consulting with an air quality specialist they decided to go avoid the potential for having hazardous compounds emitted from melted plastics.

Next to the regular trash dumpster is a new single stream dumpster, something that all attendees were familiar with, where all recyclables -- paper, plastics, metals -- can be mixed instead of sorted by the depositor. Reali said that other installations have incorporated it as far back as 15 years ago.

"We've already seen our recycling numbers increase by about 15-20 percent, but we haven't even gotten everybody on board yet," he said.

It's been two years since the composting program launched, and Rodger Voss, installation forester, noted that there are 11 compost dumpsters located throughout post, to include the dining facilities and the commissary. They see about 8 to 10 tons of organic food waste per week that can be processed and returned to the earth through the composting program. After seeing the machines used to do this, attendees were eager to examine the compost, some going so far as to smell it.

There are four and a half bays, each 50 feet deep, containing the compost, and Voss said that temperatures in the piles can reach about 160 degrees F. It takes roughly 60 to 90 days to reach the end stage of cured compost, which Voss said is then spread throughout the installation forests to support timber harvesting. Additionally, the Roads and Grounds Section of Public Works uses the compost for soil stabilization.

Voss also said that about 700 to 800 tons of wood waste annually is diverted from the landfill.

"Whatever we don't use in the compost operation we truck to the ReEnergy biomass plant right on post that gets burned for energy," he said, referring to the renewable energy plant that went on line in October.

They also support animal mortality composting -- disposing of carcasses, like deer and turkey, found on post. The science of composting is easy, Voss said, but the challenge is getting people to change their habits and educating them so that they either create less waste or dispose of it properly.

"It's the military, you just tell them to do it," one attendee suggested.

What they did do was to make it easier for community members to know where to deposit items by creating separate sections marked by large signs -- one for branches, leaves and grass; another for wood pallets and another for plywood and lumber. Like adopting a single stream recycling program, making things easier is one way of changing people's habits.

"We can pull in about 220 tons of trash one month and then jump to 400 the next -- it fluctuates," Reali said. "We all know that 80 percent of that is recyclable, another 10 percent is compostable and only about 10 percent is actual trash. The hardest thing we do is stopping people at the gate and saying, 'don't put it here, it goes here.'"

Terry Williams, operation leader for refuse, recycle and compost at Public Works, had some good news to share with the group.

"In July we ended up sending 54 tons of recycling, so that's increasing, and our solid waste has gone down and, actually, it will be our record now, of only 266 tons," he said. "Our wood waste was a big step in the right direction, and we're always trying to change things and make it better."

The tour is part of the 2016 summer and fall series organized by the regional chapter of the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling. After the Fort Drum visit, the group toured the Thousand Islands Area Habitat for Humanity warehouse and the Watertown Urban Mission.