The goal is as ambitious as it is daunting: The minicity that is Fort Hood is seeking to eliminate the nearly 20,000 tons of waste it sends annually to landfills by 2020. And do so without receiving any outside funding.
To put that goal into some perspective, consider: The City of Austin, itself one of the nation's most aggressive municipalities when it comes to recycling and reducing waste, hopes to reach a similar goal by 2030, a full decade later.
Fort Hood officials have begun looking at a number of ways to reduce the post's waste stream, from large-scale composting to semiannual postwide garage sales.
The sprawling Army post, which is home to 50,000 soldiers but hosts a daily population of 80,000 to 100,000, currently sends about 56 percent of its waste to the post landfill, which is operated by a private contractor. Within eight years, the post hopes to get that number close to zero.
Fort Hood officials are looking to Austin, which has been working toward its zero-waste goal for several years, for inspiration and technical advice, and local programs such as the University of Texas' Trash to Treasure could be reborn on the Army post.
Officials with Austin Resource Recovery, the city's trash and recycling department, see the Fort Hood initiative as an important part of regional recycling efforts that could lure specialized recycling processors to the area.
Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert , who has begun meeting with his Fort Hood counterparts to share ideas, said that while Austin might not produce enough plastic or glass recyclables to persuade reprocessing manufacturers to open a plant here, other zero-waste initiatives like Fort Hood's could help the region produce the guaranteed volume of material they are seeking.
"We could consider a corridor of economic development efforts (tied to) recycling industries from Fort Hood to San Antonio," he said.
Fort Hood's waste initiative is part of a larger Army-wide program dubbed Net Zero and announced last year. While Fort Hood focuses on finding ways to eliminate waste, other Army installations are looking for ways to reduce energy and water consumption, produce more energy on-site and recycle water so Army posts take less from nearby watersheds. (Two installations, including Fort Bliss in El Paso, are experimenting with all three areas at once.) The idea is that the lessons learned at the pilot installations will be shared throughout the Army in coming decades, resulting in Army posts that produce as much water and energy as they use and don't send waste to landfills. Officials say that beyond the environmental benefits, the effort also has security implications: locally produced energy, for example, makes military bases less vulnerable to attacks on electricity grids.
The effort is already winning attention and kudos from the local environmental community.
"In the last two or three years the military has gotten the message that what's good for the environment is good for the taxpayer and good for the soldier," said Jim Marston, head of the Environmental Defense Fund's Texas office. "The military has often given us things we learn to use in daily life. We ought to pay attention because there may be lessons we can learn to adapt."
To some degree, military installations may have advantages when it comes to instituting aggressive initiatives like Fort Hood's zero waste: namely, a command structure in which leaders can order soldiers to, say, separate organic matter from their nonorganic trash. But Fort Hood officials say such an approach won't get the results they're looking for.
"We need to change the culture, not run around ordering people to do this and that. We will get pushback," said Steve Burrow, Fort Hood's chief of environmental programs. "It has to have buy-in from folks."
Jaycee Turnquist , who has run Fort Hood's recycling center for nearly two decades, agreed that eliminating waste will require a change in mindset among the post's soldiers and employees.
"It's going to take time and one heck of an outreach program," Turnquist said.
That outreach is being funded by revenue from Fort Hood's recycling program, which boasts the largest facility in the Army. Last year, the recycling plant processed nearly 10 tons of paper, plastic bottles, scrap metal and aluminum cans, bringing in more than $1.7 million. After paying salaries and making physical improvements and repairs, the money left over will go toward an advertising campaign for the Net Zero Waste program.
Fort Hood officials, faced with the prospect of not receiving any dedicated funding for the initiative from the Department of Defense, say other waste elimination strategies should not cost much. "If you do zero waste correctly, you don't need a bunch of money," Burrow said.
Some of the ideas being considered by Fort Hood officials are aimed at reducing the waste produced by the post's transitory population. Because soldiers and their families frequently move in and out of Fort Hood, lots of household goods and old furniture often end up in the landfill. Officials are hoping to change that with some relatively simple solutions currently being considered by work groups:
• Instituting semiannual postwide garage sales where departing families could sell items to those moving in. While families occasionally hold individual yard sales, officials hope postwide sales will get more participation. The Army post is also looking at establishing a program similar to the Trash for Treasure program used at UT, where departing students donate goods that incoming students can buy.
• Opening a furniture repair shop where residents and employees could bring their old items instead of throwing them away.
• Leveraging the post's purchasing power to require vendors to support the Net Zero effort by reusing materials and recycling, and establishing agreements with manufacturers for buyback programs.
• Instituting double-sided computer printing throughout the post and promoting the use of reusable tote bags.
• Developing a program to track reusable items like old desks and construction material and storing them in a central location.
• Exploring a postwide or regional composting program to capture food waste, which can account for 30 percent of the post's landfill waste.
• Expanding an experimental single-stream recycling program, currently in use at one of the post's housing villages. While officials say Fort Hood is not large enough to support a dedicated single-stream processing center, which receives unsorted recyclables, they are looking at partnership possibilities with nearby cities.
Gedert, the City of Austin Resource Recovery director, said that while Fort Hood's timetable is aggressive, he's come to believe it's feasible.
"My opinion is that it's realistic," he said. "That's more firmly based on their commitment level. \u2026 I've been in the recycling business for 37 years and seen that different commitment levels yield different results."
For their part, Fort Hood officials, like Net Zero project leader Jennifer Rawlings , say the tools they implement over the next eight years will have an effect far beyond Fort Hood: "We will pave the way for others to follow."