The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) is engaged in the business of training U.S. law enforcement officers and agents. Almost all federal officers obtain their basic training at FLETC, which ensures that all federal agencies are grounded in the same law enforcement skills, tactics and communication methods.

FLETC, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, trains as many as 55,000 law enforcement students per year at its four U.S. campuses. It also provides support to two international campuses operated by the Department of State and the FBI. Like any business, FLETC is focused on managing its triple bottom line—the financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities associated with doing business.

Today’s FLETC seeks to accomplish its business in the most sustainable manner possible, but such was not always the case. Like many federal agencies, in the past FLETC was totally focused on its mission; it did not expend resources to engage in recycling, develop renewable energy, use renewable fuels, conserve energy or water, and it owned no green buildings. Sustainability has helped FLETC in a number of ways to improve that triple bottom line of profits, people and planet.

Increasing FLETC’s sustainability over the last 10 years has required a paradigm shift in the culture of its organization, employees, students, contractors and the 96 partner organization law enforcement agencies.

RECYCLING PILOT PROJECT

In December 2013, FLETC initiated a cooperative effort among the Assets and Logistics Management Division, the property management arm of the organization and the Firearms Division at the Glynco campus in Georgia. This partnership led to a pilot project to recycle all waste generated from firearms training on two ranges. Prior to the start of the recycling pilot, all solid waste except brass, lead and frangible dust, was disposed of in rented trash dumpsters and later deposited in a local landfill. This process was counterproductive and expensive because of the monthly dumpster rental and the tipping fees associated with using the landfill.

The pilot project proposed to eliminate these fees and perhaps generate income by recycling the cardboard, paper, paperboard and plastics that were being discarded routinely.

During the initial phase of the pilot, the following commodities were identified as having value when diverted from landfill:

  • Cardboard target backers – Trainees staple their paper targets to large pieces of cardboard to provide a rigid backing. After their training session is complete, the students strip the targets off of the backers. The cardboard backers are then collected and processed as old corrugated cardboard (OCC).
  • Paper targets – The paper targets are specially designed and measure 24.5 by 40 inches in size. They are printed on 60-pound paper. After being used in training, the targets are collected and processed as sorted office paper (SOP).
  • Plastic ammunition trays – Students are issued 50-round boxes of ammunition; each one contains a plastic tray holding the rounds separately. The ammunition trays vary in composition by manufacturer. Analysis showed these trays were one of three possible types: polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene (PE).
  • Ammunition boxes – Each ammunition box is constructed of paperboard and is processed and sold as mixed paper.

What was discovered during the pilot was that recycling was not only viable, it actually became a time and money saver. Students were no longer wasting time lugging piles of targets, backers, ammunition trays and paperboard ammunition to a dumpster located somewhere outside the range; now they could quickly drop these items into or onto recycling receptacles inside the ranges. The amount of time saved when multiplied over 50,000-plus students per year was in the hundreds of man hours, not to mention the elimination of dumpster rental fees and landfill tipping fees.

Expanding the PROGRAM

Once the processes and procedures for range recycling were established and refined during the pilot project, the recycling effort was expanded to the remaining 13 firearms ranges in March 2014. With the recycling program now implemented, the recycling team began to look around for ways to expand the program further. The next expansion opportunity came by incorporating the cafeteria and the FLETC Express convenience store.

The cafeteria prepares and serves three meals per day, seven days per week to as many as 4,500 students, staff and contractor personnel per meal. This requires food to be purchased on a massive scale, thus generating large quantities of cardboard and paperboard when food products are unpackaged for use. At the time the recycling program was looking to expand, the cafeteria was using three 4-yard dumpsters for the disposal of waste into the landfill per week.

At the FLETC Express store, students can buy food, coffee, soda, beer, candy, greeting cards, souvenirs and personal grooming items, as well as uniforms and footwear. The decision was made to begin harvesting OCC and SOP from those two locations because of the massive amounts of these products each one generated.

The recycling team determined that one of the cafeteria dumpsters could be replaced with a specially designed trailer intended just for collecting discarded cardboard and paperboard. At the same time, store personnel changed their waste handling processes to store recyclables in a small shed adjacent to the store where they could be collected by recycling personnel. This eliminated a second dumpster. These minor process changes resulted in no additional costs to the agency as waste was still placed in the remaining dumpsters.

FLETC was able to reduce its operating costs by eliminating the rental fees for two dumpsters and the associated service and tipping fees required for dumping their contents in the landfill. The amount of OCC being processed by the recyclers increased by several tons per month.

RECYCLING HAZARDOUS WASTE

In early 2015, after careful deliberation and collaboration with the Environmental and Safety Division (ESD), the organization responsible for managing hazardous waste, the recycling program further expanded by taking on two additional waste streams generated by firearms training.

Historically, expended lead rounds and frangible bullet residue were classified as hazardous wastes and managed by the environmental staff. After careful evaluation, these items were redefined as recyclables that could be accumulated for sale under hazardous waste management rules. The waste was still collected and handled as hazardous waste but was now disposed of through recycling.

FLETC’s first sale of frangible bullet residue was extremely lucrative; 38,000 pounds were recycled, generating $23,000 in income. Plus it created a substantial cost avoidance because it was not being disposed of as a hazardous waste. Three sales of frangible dust occurred in 2015, generating approximately $76,922.

The next expansion was to recycle traditional lead bullet waste.

Of the 15 firearms ranges at FLETC’s Glynco campus, only two are authorized for the use of traditional lead bullets during training. This restriction has helped to reduce environmental impacts and improve employee work conditions that are associated with using lead bullets.

In 2015, FLETC expended 12.4 million rounds of small arms ammunition; 9.8 million rounds were frangible rounds and the remaining 2.6 million were traditional lead rounds. The decision was made to harvest the lead bullet waste and sell it as a recyclable commodity. FLETC identified a buyer in Alabama that recycles lead waste into lead shields for use in medical radiology rooms and other industrial items.

In FLETC’s first sale of frangible bullet residue in 2015, it recycled 38,000 pounds and generated $23,000 in income.

This simple process change of handling the waste lead and dust as recyclables rather than as hazardous waste has resulted in about a 50 percent reduction in the amount of money previously being spent on disposing of the agency’s hazardous waste. In addition, the sales of these products generated $106,349 in positive revenue during fiscal year 2015.

ADDING SCRAP METAL

The next expansion of FLETC’s recycling program was to add scrap metal. The Glynco campus operates two metal fabrication operations: one in the automotive garage and the second in the facilities maintenance operations. Both entities generate odd pieces of metal in varying types in the fabrication, maintenance and repair of agency infrastructure and its motor vehicle and marine fleet. Government regulations allow an agency to sell metal scrap to a recycler and retain all sales proceeds for use in the program.

Prior to the establishment of the recycling program, the scrap metal from the Glynco campus was collected and placed in the scrapyard, where it was held until there was a sufficient quantity to justify a sale through the General Services Administration (GSA). At one point, this procedure took 17 months before a sale was written and posted to GSA.

During this lengthy period, ferrous metals developed rust, which not only detracted from its value but also had a potentially negative environmental impact from stormwater runoff. To alleviate the issues, another pilot project was undertaken by a new disposal specialists dedicated to the recycling program.

The premise of the pilot was simple: to take scrap metal that could not be reused for other projects at the FLETC or sold through GSA and sell it locally to scrap metal recyclers. The pilot project lasted one month and generated $24,225 more revenue than the previous GSA sale that netted $20,000 after 17 months.

The manner in which metal was placed into the scrapyard also was evaluated and refined. Previously, scrap metal was placed in the scrapyard wherever space allowed. Now, metal is segregated by type and grade.

FURTHER EXPANSION

During November 2015, the recycling program expanded again to begin removing glass from the FLETC waste stream. A pilot project was initiated to collect and sort glass bottles generated in the student center. During the pilot, more than 2,000 pounds of glass was diverted from the local landfill.

The clear and brown glass was sold to a nearby glass recycler, which generated a modest amount of positive revenue, and the green glass was recycled with no income other than the cost avoidance associated with landfill disposal.

Movement toward a more sustainable government will continue to gain momentum and acceptance in the federal workplace as recycling and sustainability become more cost-effective and are viewed as vehicles for agencies to enhance program cost avoidance. Additionally, while federal law requires that income generated by federal entities be deposited into the general Treasury account, recycling income receives special treatment as income generated thereby may be retained by the generating agency.

The Department of Homeland Security’s FLETC is leading the way in protecting the homeland, not only with its core mission of providing basic and advanced law enforcement training but also through its cutting-edge sustainability efforts and by sharing its success stories with all law enforcement entities.

The author is chief of the Assets and Logistics Management Division at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Glynco, Georgia.