Commissaries continue mission to reduce environmental footprint

By Jessica RouseApril 17, 2023

Commissaries continue mission to reduce environmental footprint
Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Commissary Store Director Carl Rawls operates a baler that compresses recyclable materials. (DeCA photo: Kaneohe Bay) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – As Americans observe Earth Day on April 22, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) continues its commitment to reducing the agency's environmental impact.

Since 2005, DeCA’s environmental program has recycled or diverted over 1.96 billion pounds of solid waste from landfills, returning over $59 million to the agency’s surcharge. Surcharge funds pay for the construction of replacement stores, renovations, maintenance and repairs of existing stores, and purchasing of new equipment and store-level information technology systems.

“As an agency, we are focused on reducing the size of our footprint,” said Steven Edlavitch, DeCA environmental program manager. “We have many systems and processes that help us do that. From the collecting and selling of different recycled and diverted commodities to working to make sure the store uses as little energy as possible and donating food, we try to divert or recycle as much as we can every single day.”

Commissaries collect different types of commodities that can be recycled or diverted throughout the year. Those commodities are sold and the revenue earned is returned to the agency’s surcharge funds.

In fiscal year 2022 alone, the agency recycled or diverted over 89 million pounds and returned over $2 million to the surcharge. This effort involved commissaries recycling or diverting the following commodities:

• Cardboard - 71,100,859 pounds

• Food donations - 4,880,118 pounds

• Plastic - 3,395,947 pounds

• Wood pallets - 3,372,212 pounds

• Compost - 2,861,808 pounds

• Fat and bones - 1,547,646 pounds

• Wood - 680,698 pounds

• Local farm - 564,414 pounds

• Consolidated recyclables - 306,606 pounds

• Metal - 250,830 pounds

• Other recyclables - 123,350 pounds

• Rotisserie chicken oil - 96,830 pounds

• Office paper - 66,109 pounds

• Fryer oil - 13,313 pounds

• Food recovery (organics) - 5,998 pounds

• Aluminum cans - 1,944 pounds

• Toner cartridges - 231 pounds

An essential part of the agency's environmental program includes using a liquidation contract to help sell off outdated or surplus equipment. Through this contract, DeCA has sold an estimated 1.8 million pounds since 2014 and returned $4.4 million in revenue to the surcharge fund.

The program not only puts money back into the agency but also helps support the communities around installations through the food bank program. The food bank program donates edible but unsellable food to local food banks nationwide. In 2022, the agency donated over 4.8 million pounds of edible but unsellable food. Since 2012, DeCA has donated over 36 million pounds of food with 177 commissaries supporting 204 Department of Defense (DOD)-approved food banks.

“DeCA’s food donation program is critical to help families struggling with hunger and food insecurity,” said Edlavitch. “We’ve seen the use of food banks rise over the last couple of years. At first food banks struggled to keep up with demand during the pandemic but now the demand is coming from families challenged with higher food prices.”

The agency also participates in the yearly Feds Feed Families food drive, a voluntary federal-wide and nationwide effort for employees and commissary patrons to collect and donate food for those in need. The United States Department of Agriculture oversees the program and DeCA manages DOD’s participation.

The 2022 campaign collected just over 7.8 million pounds of groceries donated across all federal departments and agencies. DOD contributed 4.7 million pounds, or 60 percent, marking an increase of more than 27 percent from 2021. DeCA’s share of the 4.7 million was 3.2 million pounds, or 68 percent, an increase of more than 33 percent from 2021’s total. Commissary customers also purchased an estimated 81,423 donation bags this year, totaling more than $854,000 in groceries. DeCA’s total estimated dollar donation value for the 2022 is approximately $3.2 million.

In 2022, DeCA deployed its new Waste Management Report (WMR) System. According to Edlavitch, commissaries now have the resources to track their recycling data, including food donations and food bank information, and email this data to the military installations.

In addition, the enhanced commissary buildings also help reduce the overall environmental footprint of the agency:

• Many facilities have been renovated to minimize energy and water consumption

• Glass doors have been installed on refrigeration units to conserve energy

• Use of natural light and efficient LED lighting when possible

• Low- to no-maintenance flooring in some stores, reducing the chemicals and equipment needed to strip and polish floors

• Motion sensors reduce lighting when there are no personnel working in a particular area

• Computer-controlled HVAC system with a modulated mechanical system to conserve energy

Commissaries also make it easy for patrons to live more sustainably by offering environmentally friendly products. For example, patrons can find organic produce, energy-saving compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs, high-efficiency laundry products, environmentally friendly cleaning products, and reduced packaging products like paper towels and bathroom tissue without the cardboard tubes on the commissary's shelves. Also available for purchase are reusable shopping bags to help reduce the number of plastic bags sent to landfills.

Patrons can also find Full Circle Market, a Commissary Store Brand on shelves. Full Circle Market provides sustainable, simple and better choices through all-natural ingredients while not costing a fortune or sacrificing taste. According to the brand’s website, their “organic foods are farmed and produced without chemical treatments and processing. Full Circle Market organic foods have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support cycling on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

“This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet,’” said Edlavitch. “We invite all patrons to join commissaries in investing in our planet and reducing our impact on the environment, helping to protect it for future generations.”

In Hawaii, authorized patrons have four commissaries they can shop at:

  • Hickam
  • Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe
  • Pearl Harbor (at the NEX)
  • Schofield Barracks

About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.