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With the 2012 implementation of the Qualified Recycling Program (QRP) in Naval District Washington (NDW) came the responsibility of all NDW personnel to ensure that recyclable material was getting to the proper receptacles for processing. But what happens to the sheet of paper or plastic bottle after it goes in the recycling bin?

To answer this question, it is important to understand exactly what can be recycled in the QRP. In short, just about everything.

“Everything is able to be recycled other than kitchenette trash and bathroom trash - cans, bottles, mixed paper, white paper, cardboard - it’s all recyclable,” said Cari Gill, Melwood’s performance assessment representative at Public Works Department (PWD) Washington. “The problem that we currently have here at NDW is that people don’t know what’s recyclable and what’s not. So knowledge and education is essential.”

Gill said that NDW’s recyclable materials include cardboard, white paper, colored paper, newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic and glass containers, wooden pallets and toner cartridges, to name a few. Even shredded documents may be recycled. Once these materials are placed in the centrally located collection bins around NDW, they can be collected for processing.

“Once a week, the recycling crew empties each of the central containers,” said Patrick Moran, QRP manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Washington. “Materials are placed on a truck and transported to one of the regional recycling process centers at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Pax River, or Naval Support Activity Annapolis.”

Moran said that once the materials reach a collection center, they are placed on a conveyor belt to head in to be processed in order to remove contaminants along with any sorting required. At the end of conveyor, materials go to the baler or are placed in collection containers called Gaylord boxes. Bales and Gaylord boxes of materials are weighed as they are loaded in a trailer. When the trailer is full, it gets hauled to a broker who writes a check to the government once a month for the value of materials based on published commodity price values. From there, the materials are sent to recycling plants for processing back into reusable products.

Some processing sites in NDW go further than simply processing office waste, said Moran.

“There is also yard waste composting at some installations,” said Moran. “At Naval Support Activity Annapolis, for instance, the composting of leaves, branches and grass from grounds operations produces high nutrient soil and mulch which is for sale to the public.”

While many products are recyclable, principle among them is paper, and getting that paper into the recycling stream is the responsibility of everyone in NDW, said Moran.

“The heaviest single material in NDW’s solid waste stream is paper and paper products,” said Moran. “Much of this is being recycled; out of 4,000 tons that were recycled by NDW last year, 3,000 tons were paper and cardboard. In order to reach our goal of recycling 40 percent of NDW’s solid waste stream, we will need to capture and recycle even more paper.”

But for all the material recycled, Gill stresses that it is only what is collected that gets processed. She said that if the material never makes it to the centrally located containers and stays in the trash, it can never be collected for recycling. She added that everyone must do their part to ensure that recyclable materials are going where they need to in order to do the most good.

Moran said that recycling materials to be reused does more than save the cost of buying newly manufactured products. It saves on energy costs, as well.

“Because we recycle paper we reduce the amount of trees that are harvested to make new paper,” said Moran. “Therefore, by reducing the amount of trees harvested, energy is saved, and pollution is prevented. Pollution ordinarily results from the burning of fossil fuels to harvest trees, to ship trees to mill, to turn raw material into paper, then to ship product to retail outlets. By recycling we eliminate need to harvest trees instead we ship recyclable material to mill and turn paper into paper which requires less energy. So, recycling reduces energy needed to harvest, manufacture and ship. Therefore, recycling in NDW has a global effect on pollution and fossil fuel reduction. And there are similar benefits of recycling aluminum, plastic, glass and printer cartridges.”

These actions also reduce the Navy’s carbon footprint, and reduce the need to further harvest resources needed to produce new materials, added Moran.

Moran reminds all NDW personnel that the process is simple and easy, but it involves everyone making an effort. By simply placing recyclable materials in the appropriate recycling containers, personnel are doing their part to save the environment, save money and reach the 40 percent recycling goal.