Waste not, want not – Kentucky National Guard changing environmental attitudes

By Stacy Floden, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Kentucky National Guard recycling trailer located at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. The trailer stores glass, plastic and aluminum (photo courtesy of Kentucky National Guard Environmental Office).

Kentucky National Guard recycling trailer located at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center. The trailer stores glass, plastic and aluminum (photo courtesy of Kentucky National Guard Environmental Office).

FRANKFORT, Ky. – It is a message from the top – reduce, reuse, recycle, and the Kentucky Army National Guard is following through with much success. In fiscal year 2016, the Kentucky Guard exceeded the Department of Defense waste diversion goal of 50% for the second year in a row.

“Waste reduction is a key component of sustainability. It supports our mission and it is the right thing to do,” stated Col. Steve King, construction and facility management officer. “When you throw something away it doesn’t go ‘away’, it just goes somewhere else and the individual has the choice to decide where that is. We are willing to fight to defend our great country, and should be equally passionate about taking care of it.”

Diversion is the percentage of waste generated that is redirected from disposal. So, if the Guard produces 100 tons of waste, disposes of 70 tons and recycles 30 tons, the diversion rate is 30%.

Kentucky Environmental Manager Ricky French stated the Kentucky Guard is ahead of the curb when it comes to waste diversion and recycling. We write our own Environment Management System program. Currently, we use our own stick to beat ourselves up with. We know recycling is a command emphasis. There are so many benefits with recycling. Financially it is just smart for us to want to save our environment to the best of our ability.

Click here for more photos.

Waste and recycling manager Linda Mitchell has been overseeing the program since 2011. Since then, the Kentucky Guard’s waste diversion has improved from 10% to 53% from 2012 to 2015, with refuse disposal costs decreasing about 15% over the same period. Kentucky maintenance shops have led the way, recycling items like used oil, tires, batteries, and scrap metal in addition to typical recyclables, achieving a 74% diversion rate in 2016.

“It takes visual and educational awareness to participate in the recycling programs. With having the recycle bins around the Soldiers it is going to give them the opportunity to participate, but I think it is going to take time to develop and the mindset to participate,” said Environmental Program Manager Lt. Col. Tim Pickerrell. “We are all kind of stubborn and set in our ways at times, but with the extra emphasis, I think we will get there. We all want to do a better job for our environment and continue to get to the next step in being good stewards.”

One of the success stories has been the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center (WHFRTC). Remotely located in Greenville, Ky., it has been difficult to establish reliable recycling service. A key move was in hiring a support person, Phillip Nickle. Since his hire in 2014, he has done an outstanding job of expanding recycling at the training sites from just a few buildings serviced sporadically to coverage at all office and training buildings, housing quarters, the dining facility and recently to bivouac sites. Nickle goes about his work of collecting and transporting material and promoting recycling in general. Over his watch WHFRTC has improved diversion from 3% to 22% and decreased disposal costs by 19%.

Mitchell has also made sure the approximate 72 locations across the state are all participating in recycling at some level and she has provided a greater awareness of the program and how the Kentucky Guard is caring for the environment.

“When it comes to environmental impact, WHFRTC has a large footprint. Every Kentucky Guard Solider has spent time there taking it from zero to where it is now. Twenty-two percent is a phenomenal amount of waste being diverted,” said French. “If it wasn’t for Linda and Phillip and their desire to strive to do the right thing this program wouldn’t be where it is today and we would not be having this conversation. They own the program. It isn’t just a job for them. The Kentucky Guard is conquering the world with two drivers, Phillip and Linda. I guarantee we are in the top three, if not the best in the country in recycling.

French said Kentucky is the only state that is recycling in what he called a 360 degree approach.

“I don’t think anyone else has been able to achieve what we have,” he added. “And that is only due to great command support, great staff and great Soldiers in the field that have stood up and made it happen.”

For 2017 and beyond, the diversion goals are to increase awareness and participation at armories and WHFRTC. Recycling success begins at the individual level, with soldiers accepting personal responsibility for the waste that each generates. Drill weekends are a prime opportunity to divert large volumes of material from the dumpster to the recycle bins.

“It takes a small amount of effort to ensure discarded material gets put into the right place,” said Mitchell. “As attitudes become more ‘green’ it will carry over when units go to other training sites and during annual training events.”

“Getting WHFRTC up to 50% would be great, but it is going to take everyone, especially the Soldiers at the site. We are still refining the system to reach our goal, but awareness is growing.”

WHFRTC is a prime example as to how Kentucky has been leading the nation in natural resources conservation, cultural resources management, environmental quality, pollution prevention and environmental cleanup. It was one of only six Army installations worldwide to be selected for the 2012 environmental awards from the Department of Defense.

The Kentucky Guard has gained recognition for many of its environmental successes including; pallet recycling program, sponsorship of the Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation, and prescribed burn management program.  These projects, among others the Kentucky Guard leadership is proud to share with local, state and federal agencies exemplify the cooperation to cost-effectively improve the environment.

“When Recycling is in a place when people are just doing it and they don’t even know it. When it’s just an everyday routine, that is when we have achieved our goals,” said French.