CHERRY POINT — Over the past nine months, the recycling program at Fleet Readiness Center East has processed hundreds of tons of Hurricane Florence-related waste, working to keep as much as possible out of local landfills.
The effort has been hugely successful, according to the organization. Since the storm blew through the region last September, the depot has diverted more than 239 tons of hurricane-related solid waste materials, the weight equivalent of more than 110 large cars.
“In the midst of recovering from a crisis, our team went above and beyond to do what is right,” FRC East Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto said. “These materials could have found their way to the landfill rather than being recycled, but our workforce made the extra effort because we are committed to the environment and the community.”
When Florence hit land last fall, the storm caused significant damage to facilities at FRC East. Once skies cleared, personnel were accounted for and cleanup began, the depot’s Industrial Environmental Division had concerns about another type of harm – damage to the environment.
FRC East tracks all solid waste disposal, and the depot has adopted an environmental objective of reaching a 60% diversion rate by 2020, which is higher than the 50% goal set by the commander of fleet readiness centers. This year’s goal sits at 58%, and the depot was in danger of not reaching that target once the massive amount of waste from Florence recovery and repairs started rolling in. For example, repairs to FRC East’s Hangar 3 alone generated 60 tons of metal that were diverted.
“After the storm came through, the amount of solid waste we generated almost doubled what we would normally produce,” Stephen Azok, FRC East’s environmental management system program manager, said. “As we progressed, we saw a huge amount of storm-related materials come in. Through the efforts of the recycling team, we were able to divert more than three-quarters of those materials – almost 240 tons – that, in any other situation, could have easily gone into the landfill. It would have blown our diversion goals out of the water.”
Under normal circumstances, most of the solid waste coming into the recycling center is already sorted, Mr. Azok explained. Because recovery efforts needed to happen quickly in order for the depot to return to normal operations, the recycling center received huge hoppers full of mixed waste, which the team then manually sorted.
“They visually inspected each hopper that came in,” Mr. Azok said. “They basically looked at and pulled out materials that could be diverted, and they had to hand-sort the contents of these co-mixed hoppers. What they couldn’t lift, they would dump out and sort using equipment. There was a lot of effort that went into it.”
What makes the team’s achievements even more special, Mr. Azok said, is that there are only three individuals working recycling for the depot, Richard Foley, Johnathan Lowe and Matthew Streicher, the materials handlers and the materials handler work leader. The depot was given extra support to dispose of storm waste, in the form of roll-off dumpsters that would have gone straight to the landfill, but the team opted to make the extra effort.
“They could have easily taken that route and sent everything to the landfill, and it would have been acceptable,” Mr. Azok said. “Nobody told them they had to do this, but they took it upon themselves to process the materials correctly, make sure they were accounted for, and divert them. They knew what they were doing. It shows just how much the team believes in the principles of our environmental management system.”
Team members said they were just doing their jobs.
“I just did my job – that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Mr. Foley said. “It was hard, and the yard was full, but my team leader helped a lot and even the environmental and hazardous materials guys pitched in. It was a team effort, and it was good for the FRC.”
The Office of the Secretary of the Navy recently recognized FRC East for its environmental stewardship with the 2019 SECNAV Environmental Award for Sustainability – Individual/Team.