Commissaries support environment year round

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FORT LEE, Va.– Green purchasing, food bank donations and recycling highlight a long list of things the Defense Commissary Agency is doing to reach “net zero waste” and other environmental goals.

The agency has long focused on the reduction of waste, recycling materials, conservation of resources and becoming more energy-efficient overall, said Randy Eller, deputy director of DeCA’s logistics directorate. Today, even more is being done to conserve resources. Commissary customers also have many ways to go green. Commissaries stock green products and offer reusable shopping bags for purchase. Customers can choose from different designs, and there are thermal bags as well. Stores also recycle plastic shopping bags for patrons.

The list of green products sold in commissaries include compact fluorescent lamps, green cleaning products and high-efficiency laundry cleaning products. Also available are waste-reduction products such as paper towels and bathroom tissue without cardboard tubes, so there is nothing to throw away after the last towel is used. The stores also carry organically grown fruits and vegetables.

“We want to give our patrons every opportunity to choose the products they want,” said Joseph H. Jeu, DeCA director and CEO. “If living green and reducing their carbon foot print is how they choose to live we have the products for them. Shopping in the commissary for these products can help them save while they buy green.”

As for the stores, 121 commissaries donate to 99 food banks around the country approved by the Department of Defense as eligible to receive commissary food donations, which helps reduce the amount of organic food waste the stores handle. They can donate all food that is edible but not sellable, according to Robin Armhold, DeCA’s environmental engineer.

“We would like each commissary to have two food banks that they can contribute to,” said Armhold, noting that it not only keeps large amounts of food waste out of area landfills, but it also allows the commissary to help the local community.

“Every day around the world, millions of tons of food waste are simply bagged up and dumped in trash bins destined for the landfill,” she said. “In the U.S. alone, over 40 percent of landfill content is food waste.”

One of DeCA’s goals is to achieve “net zero waste” across the agency. Net zero waste is a “whole systems approach” that changes the way materials flow through an organization, ideally resulting in no waste. DeCA is striving to reduce at least 90 percent of its waste, said Armhold.

“In fiscal 2014, DeCA received almost $4 million in proceeds from items that were recycled,” said Armhold. “The money went to the surcharge fund, which helps to renovate older stores and build new commissaries.”

Over 64,000 tons of cardboard, 1,537 tons of plastic, 837 tons of fats and bones, and 99 tons of kitchen grease have been recycled. Over 5,000 tons of organic waste has been composted, and the stores have donated over 870 tons of food through the food bank program, she said. Stores also recycle plastic that items are shrink-wrapped in.

“Our patrons can feel good about the fact that their commissary is helping others while saving taxpayer dollars,” Armhold said.