After working with a contractor to remove and recycle a 15,000-ton metal scrap pile, Thule Air Base received a check for more than $1 million toward environmental and morale programs. (Todd DeGarmo / Air Force)
For more than 15 years, service members at Thule Air Base, Greenland, have been saving scrap metal instead of throwing it away.
In September, the base sold 15,000 tons of scrap metal for $1 million — part of a series of efforts across the Air Force to increase recycling and reduce waste going to landfills.
The projects are driven in part by a 2009 executive order by President Obama calling for agencies to recycle 50 percent of their nonhazardous waste by 2015.
Agencies are allowed to keep the proceeds from their recycling and conservation efforts under a 2007 executive order — which has given Air Force installations extra incentives to recycle.
At Thule Air Base, the scrap metal — collected from dismantled fuel tanks and pipelines — was too costly to move until scrap metal prices rose to about $435 a ton for steel.
The installation is now developing a list of other recycling and energy efficiency programs it can fund with the recent windfall, according to the Air Force.
Kenneth Caligiuri, chief of the Air Force's environmental branch, said the recycling efforts help fund recycling projects that had not been able to receive funding.
Caligiuri said recycling helps to restore unusable land and installations. Employees at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., for example, have recycled 64,000 pounds of munitions debris from mine shafts on the property — helping to clean up 828 acres of land for new uses.
Other Air Force installations have instituted recycling projects. For example:
• Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., recycled more than 80,000 tons of concrete and asphalt during construction of a new $43 million runway.
• Hurlburt Field, Fla., installed a new $7.4 million waste-to-electricity generator that will convert 4,200 tons of solid waste to electricity and produces a glassy material as a byproduct that can be used in construction.
• Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., removed and recycled 50,000 tons of material from a previously unusable area of the installation. By recycling the materials, the Air Force saved $2 million in disposal costs.
• Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., recycled more than 550 tons of steel from a demolished commissary. Much of the material will be used as backfill to provide stable foundations for future projects.
Kevin Gabos, recycling expert at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment, said that while most of the efforts are at the installation level, the Air Force is going to start collecting more detailed data on what types of materials are recycled and what the cost or benefit of each recycling project is.
That level of detail will help the Air Force determine where to focus its efforts and how to save the most money on cleanup and construction costs, Gabos said.