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Persistence, recycling reaps large rewards for AF, environment

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stacey Haga
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Money doesn't grow on trees, but sometimes you can find it in a trash can. Imagine finding more than $100,000 yearly in your bin.

With some imagination and persistence, Ron Hull, 325th Maintenance Group environmental coordinator, turned otherwise hazardous waste into cash for the Air Force.

Materials used in the F-22 Raptor low observable coatings contain heavy metals, which present a risk to the environment unless proper disposal methods are used. Instructions from the F-22 program stated that the waste stream would have to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Upon reviewing the material safety data sheets, Mr. Hull realized the materials contained a significant amount of a precious metal - silver.

Mr. Hull saw the amount of material generated in the waste stream and thought there could be a possibility of recycling the material for the silver, rather than disposing of it as hazardous waste. Some tests were done locally and silver was able to be extracted from the waste, he said.

"We looked at the waste stream and saw no reason why we should not treat it as precious metals," Mr. Hull said.

So in April 2004, Defense Support Service members here started to collect the waste from applying silver-containing materials and store it.

"We recover as much as we can," said Gary Johnson, DS2 environmental technician.
In December 2006, the first drum of material was sent to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service to be recycled.

"In August 2006, DRMO reclassified the materials as a hazardous waste and gave us the option of disposing it (which costs about $2 per pound) or taking the material back," said Mr. Hull. "So we took it back and sent it to a refinery that Langley AFB, Va., had already obtained and approved for the same waste stream."

In September 2006, 2,679 pounds of silver-containing waste was shipped to the refinery.

Months of persistence paid off, the end result--a check for more than $226,000 was issued to the Tyndall Recycling Program.

The effort not only produced income for otherwise unusable materials, but also eliminated disposal costs and reduced environmental pollution, said Mr. Hull.
"It seemed like a futile effort for a long time because no one would take it, but it was well worth the return," Mr. Johnson said.

"I'm anticipating at least $200,000 to be raised per year if we maintain this program," Mr. Hull said.

The money earned through the silver recycling will be handled according to DOD regulations. For starters, it will cover the operation and overhead of the recycling program and improvements made to it. All the other funds will go to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program here according to Mr. Hull.

"We will use the money to improve our operations and have less impact on the environment," Mr. Hull said.

In the future, if the Defense Logistics Agency chooses to take ownership of the waste, it will process it in its own refinery and the silver will be available for DOD projects to obtain the metal rather than purchasing silver from the market, Mr. Hull said.

"We recycle this material because it's the right thing to do," Mr. Hull said. "No matter how the funds are dispersed, we will reduce Tyndall's impact on the environment and save the government money."

"I'm extremely proud of Mr. Hull and our maintenance team for pursuing this effort to completion. It takes a lot of time and persistence to initiate and execute a new reclamation process like this one," said Col. Brett Haswell. "We are entering an era of funding constraints, so successful ideas like this one will be valuable to help us sustain our exceptional performance of the Tyndall mission."

A few other Air Force programs using similar silver-based materials have followed Tyndall's lead in recycling.

"I am convinced other F-22 units will follow suit with our ground breaking process," Colonel Haswell said. "We will continue to look for opportunities like this one, we can't afford not to."