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Recycling at NIH: What's Up?

What's going on with recycling and use of recycled materials at NIH? Although recycling efforts may not be readily apparent to many NIH'ers, much is being done.

NIH has been in compliance with Executive Order 12873, "Federal Acquisition, Recycling and Waste Prevention" and "Vegetable Ink Printing Act," since its enactment 2 years ago. This law requires a minimum content standard of no less than 20 percent postconsumer materials for all high-speed copier paper, offset paper, forms bond, computer printout paper, file folders, and white woven envelopes. This standard will increase to 30 percent Dec. 31, 1998. The laws also set a standard of 50 percent recovered materials for other uncoated printing and writing paper such as office paper, book paper, and cotton fiber paper.

Of the almost $6.6 million in printing procured through NIH in FY 1994, about 85 percent contained recycled materials. Also, all printing procurement for work performed by outside contractors stipulates adherence to recycled material in paper products and inks. In addition, all letterhead, notepads, etc., printed with NIH, ICD specific insignia/address procured through NIH also must meet the mandated standards for recycling materials.

The Environmental Protection Branch, ORS, is responsible for the NIH recycling program and provided the following facts; keep in mind that these statistics do not include recycling efforts at off-campus leased facilities, nor do they include voluntary programs set up by employees. While most building owners are responsible for recycling in the off-campus facilities, the Division of Support Services has assumed sole responsibility for recycling at the Stonestreet facility in Rockville. This model allows a private contractor to recycle white paper, cardboard, and wood pallets at no cost to the government.

Volunteer programs have contributed significantly in stimulating intramural researchers to initiate recycling efforts in their areas. Their support is a prime example of how each employee can contribute to recycling at NIH.

In FY 1996, NIH recycled 310 metric tons (682,000 pounds) of white office paper. That would amount to a stack of paper 4.3 miles high or a path of paper 12,000 miles long. And that's just a year's worth. Over the 7 years of NIH's structured program, 1,926 metric tons (4,237,200 pounds) of white office paper have been collected and recycled -- a stack 26.8 miles high and 73,562 miles long.

Since 1990, NIH has steadily increased the types and amounts of materials recycled, reaching a total of 5,377 metric tons or 12 million pounds of material. In 1990, of the 8,226 tons of waste destined for the landfill, NIH recycled a total of 288 tons or 3.5 percent. By 1995, the total rose to over four times that amount: 1,175 tons or over 2.5 million pounds recycled in 1 year, and the percentage diverted by recycling has risen to over 10.

In 1990, NIH recycled two major categories: white/mixed paper and wood pallets. Now NIH recycles seven different categories including aluminum cans, metal, yard waste, cardboard, and polypropylene. NIH recycles all materials required by Montgomery County.

Recycling is not a simple or inexpensive process. It requires a number of resources such as FTEs, space, and money to collect and store materials for recycling. While there is some return from recycling, it is not near the cost incurred. In 1996, on-campus recycling efforts cost NIH about $114,000, while selling the 1,122 tons of recycled material only brought in $23,673. A full service recycling program, which would include all on-campus buildings, will cost about $875,000.

Efforts are ongoing to expand the scope of NIH recycling by increasing the amount of material currently being recycled and adding new material such as drink cans and newspapers to the current recyclable list. The NIH recycling program is completely voluntary. With the cooperation of staff, the amount and diversity of materials recycled and diverted from the landfill will continue to grow.

Any recycling program depends on the help of individuals. Employees can help by using such recycling opportunities as disposing of white office paper in recycling containers instead of the trash can and taking home and recycling such personal items as soda cans and newspapers. For more information about NIH recycling, contact the Environmental Protection Branch, 6-7990.

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