GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Sept. 7, 2012) -- Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, visited U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, Germany, Sept. 7, to assess the garrison's progress with energy initiatives and Net Zero.

Her stop in Grafenwoehr was part of a week-long, whirlwind trip with visits at eight posts in Germany and Italy to better understand the state of renewable and alternative energy and how the Army can best maximize the use of it.

While at the garrison, Hammack toured the Recycle Center, Hazardous Material Management Program Facility and met with local leaders on Net Zero and environmental initiatives and accomplishments.

In 2010, under Hammack's influence, the Army pushed ahead with Net Zero pilot programs in 15 garrisons. Net Zero programs strive to eliminate, as much as possible, a community's impact on the environment. According to the Army Energy Program's Vision for Net Zero established by the Pentagon, Net Zero is often broken down into three consumptive categories: energy, water and waste.

Grafenwoehr was chosen as a pilot installation for Net Zero waste, aiming to produce zero landfill over the course of a year through reduction and converting waste streams into alternative energy sources.

So far, Grafenwoehr has charged ahead with its Net Zero goals. Since 2010, the garrison has cut down on 60 percent of its municipal waste -- household trash, packaging, and food -- already surpassing the 2015 target by 10 percent.

The numbers for the construction and demolition are even more significant, with 99 percent of all byproducts repurposed, recycled or recovered. Human error accounted for the one percent that failed to meet standards.

Grafenwoehr's environmental-leaning host nation has proved a huge boon for the Net Zero initiative. Germany, which already possesses efficient recycling and waste-to-energy plants, has been an invaluable partner for the Army's goals.

An on-post contractor sells Grafenwoehr's and Hohenfels' recycled material on the German market. This strategy is both cost-avoidant and mutually beneficial to the garrison and the host nation, said Juergen Alex, chief of the USAG Grafenwoehr Directorate of Public Works' Utilities Branch.

More notable is the trash stream. All non-recycled refuse gets sent to a shredder plant. From there, the shredded garbage heads 70 kilometers to the Schwandorf Waste to Energy Incineration Plant, where it's burned, producing three separate outputs: ash, steam and electricity.

The ash is used as a potent fertilizer. The steam heats aluminum to produce materials at an aluminum parts factory and is also used to heat the building. The electricity also heads to the aluminum parts factory, and any unused voltage is sent into the grid.

This waste recovery program not only lowers the garrison's potential addition to landfills, but contributes to clean energy efforts in Germany.

Grafenwoehr has also grown its recycling center on post. Alongside the large recycling dumpsters scattered throughout post and the dual "plastic" and "refuse" bins in the Exchange, the garrison boasts a recycling area for electronic parts and toner cartridges, and an industrial strength and size paper shredder as an alternative to burning sensitive materials.

While Grafenwoehr is succeeding in its Net Zero goals, it still produces large amounts of waste. In 2011, the garrison generated 15,000 metric tons of waste.

"Americans have more refuse than the German neighbors, per capita," said Alex, the force behind the garrison's Net Zero.

One of the largest obstacles the garrison faces in its Net Zero waste goals stems from the community's hesitancy to adjust to this alternative way of viewing trash as something with the potential to become energy or a new bottle or a mattress.

Out of all the waste on Grafenwoehr, 40 percent is disposed of as refuse. Alex estimates that out of this 40 percent, 75 percent could be recycled.

"It depends on the population. It all has to do with behavior," said Alex. "Behavior change is necessary."

For many, this means taking time to separate plastics, metals, cardboard, paper and glass from the food scraps and mixed materials which can be tossed into the trash. Recycling has advanced in recent years and now anything from mattresses and batteries to electronics and motor oil can be recycled. Depositories on post will take used electronics and toner ink, which then get sold back to the manufacturers for a profit.

Even better than recycling, says Alex, is reducing, reusing and repurposing waste.

"The most important effort is on reduction and repurpose," said Alex. "If you reduce and reuse, you don't have as much of an impact on the environment as recycling."

By cutting back on waste, recycling and reusing materials, the community can push the garrison closer to its Net Zero goals and help preserve a better environment and increase future resources.