J.D. Wang, the CEO of a tire recycling company, believes people can recycle anything if they put their minds to it. So it seems fitting that his company is expanding into a recycled building — once the commissary at the former Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif.
In Sacramento, a former Mather Air Force Base storage building now houses mountains of unwanted electronics, all waiting to be recycled by an electronic asset recovery company.
And at the former George Air Force Base, Calif., an antiquated Boeing 737 is being dismantled for parts by an aircraft recycling corporation. “About 70 to 80 percent of an aircraft is recyclable materials,” according to Doug Scroggins, the managing director of the firm.
Since the 1980s, 40 former bases across the U.S. have closed as a result of base realignment and closure. The Air Force Real Property Agency has overseen cleanup and property transfer at these bases. To date, more than 76,000 acres of surplus Air Force property has been conveyed to the public, re-purposing military runways, buildings and other infrastructure to strengthen local economies with jobs and commerce.
Many recycling businesses have gravitated to the large, inexpensive industrial sites available at these rambling former Air Force bases, which now house factories recycling everything from toasters to paint.
Wang says tires in the U.S. are scrapped at a rate of about 300 million per year. Worn tires are a nuisance; they don’t decompose and they take up a lot of space, he says. His company, headquartered in Ontario, Calif., recycles 100 percent of each tire, removing steel components and processing the rubber into crumbs or powder. Crumbs are shipped to manufacturers in one-ton bags to be made into products like gym or playground floors.
The new factory in the former Norton AFB commissary will convert powdered rubber into various sealant and coating products for roofs, garage floor and, driveways as well as a puncture preventive in tires. The recycled rubber products are water-based, with no volatile organic compound fumes to pollute the air. Rubber coatings can be used to protect truck beds and to guard infrastructure against rust, Wang said. A rubber auto undercarriage coating to protect against corrosion from salted roads is currently being tested, as is a coating for bridges.
Eventually, 120 employees will work at the firm’s San Bernardino factory, where tires will also be converted to powder, a process currently taking place at another facility.
“We have something really unique and exciting,” Wang said. He hopes to attract more recycling-based businesses to the former Norton AFB, creating what he calls “a sustainable recycling hub.”
Jerry Noel, a painting contractor for 27 years, now runs a company that recycles latex paint out of what was once a shipping and receiving facility at the closed McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento.
“Approximately 800 million gallons of paint is produced for consumption in the U.S. annually,” Noel says, estimating that 10 percent of it, or 80 million gallons per year, is leftover or unwanted. Because it cannot legally be dumped in California landfills, it tends to accumulate. “The average homeowner has between 3.2 and 3.6 gallons of paint in their garage per year that they’ve owned their home,” he says.
Noel receives leftover paints from the state’s household hazardous waste sites, then sorts, mixes and filters them, recycling the containers. His recycled interior and exterior paint is sold by paint and hardware outlets. “We make any color,” he says. They also design products for particular uses, such as a gray paint with epoxy resin which Cal-Trans uses to paint rocks, and a labor-saving product called Envirotex containing recycled glass beads which acts as a primer, texture and paint in one application.
Across town in a massive storage building at the former Mather Air Force Base, mountains of toasters, vacuum cleaners, crock pots, hairdryers and every other small appliance await their turn in what is called the Big Green Machine. They invested in the company from Germany which dismantles copiers, printers and other unwanted machines by spinning them rapidly. The company is the only one in the U.S. with this technology, which uses a third less energy than the shredding technologies deployed by other recyclers.
Additional mountainous piles include computers, televisions, cell phones and other gadgets which move from coveted technology to e-waste in constantly shortening life cycles. Like latex paint, e-waste is forbidden from landfills in California. Twenty-four other states have legislation in place or pending to prevent e-waste from entering landfills.
Pieces are sorted into categories such as copper, aluminum, plastic, stainless steel or circuit boards, piled into 1,000-pound burlap bags, sold to approved recyclers, and sent off to be melted or smelted.
TVs and cathode ray tubes have to be dismantled by hand because of lead and mercury in the products, which can’t be released into the air. Hard drives from computers are destroyed to protect security. The company has about 70 employees and will be expanding into an additional building at the former Mather AFB.
Near Southern California’s Victorville, Doug Scroggins of an aircraft recycling corporation dismantles as many as 30 aircraft a year at the former George Air Force Base. It takes about four weeks to tear down a small aircraft, which can weigh between 40,000 and 45,000 pounds, and another week to clean it up and prepare it for demolition. For a wide-body, 250,000 pounds, three additional weeks are needed.
Scroggins said a current industry slowdown has reduced business to about one to two planes a month. He predicts a turnaround, with more business by mid to late summer of 2012.
The work is done on an environmentally safe concrete pad he built specifically for the job at a cost of more than $1 million, Scroggins said. “There’s a lot of hazardous waste on these airplanes,” he noted, and the pad is designed to contain spilled fuel and other contaminants.
The recycling company works primarily on Boeing aircraft: 737s, 757s and 767s. “We’re in the parts business, too. We make the bulk of our money in parts,” he said.
As the spacious buildings on former Air Force bases around California are recycled into various commercial uses, entrepreneurs are attracted to their inexpensive leases, low-density environments and expansive parking. This infrastructure is helping idealistic business people convert trash into profits while reducing landfill waste.