FORT LEE, Va. — When it comes to Earth Day, military commissaries don’t just check a box for an annual observance. The Defense Commissary Agency’s environmental management system (EMS) works year-round to help protect the environment by using sustainable work practices, recycling and diverting waste from landfills.
“Protecting the environment is very important to DeCA,” said Robin Armhold, the agency’s environmental engineer. “We are working to keep as much waste as possible out of landfills and continuously protect natural resources.”
During 2016, DeCA recycled or diverted millions of pounds of material from reaching landfills. The agency recycled almost 1.12 million pounds of cardboard, over 3.7 million pounds of plastic, almost 421,000 pounds of metal, nearly 854,000 pounds of wood and over 9.5 million pounds of pallets.
The agency also recycled almost 1.5 million pounds of bones and fats, almost 30,000 pounds of kitchen grease and recovered over 5 million pounds of organic products.
Another important facet of the agency’s EMS is the food bank donation program. Over the programs’ five-year span the number of commissaries and food banks participating have risen each year. To date there are 144 commissaries working with 145 foodbanks to feed those less fortunate. In 2016, DeCA was able to donate 2.7 million pounds of edible but unsellable food to food banks around the country. As of March 2017, the agency had already donated almost 2 million pounds – an increase of over 650,000 pounds at the same time last year.
“The food bank program is an outstanding success as we are contributing to the local communities by helping feed the hungry,” said Randy Eller, chief of DeCA’s environmental and planning division. “The agency is diverting millions of pounds of waste from landfills.”
DeCA is also pushing the needle in reducing both energy and water use in its facilities. Commissaries are energy-intensive facilities, and DeCA managed to reduce electricity usage by 2.5 percent in fiscal 2016. Thanks to various energy-saving features such as modern refrigeration systems being added to its stores – when compared to commercial supermarkets, commissaries are about 36 percent more energy efficient – the agency is meeting the federal energy goal standard. Annual water use has been reduced by 23.6 percent from 2007.
Customers can also purchase “green” products considered safe for the environment. In its stock assortment, DeCA carries organically grown fruits and vegetables, energy saving compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs, high-efficiency laundry products and environmentally friendly cleaning products. Customers can also find products with reduced packaging like paper towels and bathroom tissue without the cardboard tubes.
For more than a decade, reusable shopping bags have been a staple at DeCA’s stores, and this year, in honor of the 150th anniversary of military commissaries, patrons can purchase commemorative reusable bags that will go on sale April 22, according to Sallie Cauthers, DeCA marketing specialist. The reusable bags feature two designs. Both have a historic black and white photograph on one side and a full color photograph from the 21st century on the other. Quantities of these specially designed bags are limited.
“Our EMS is the framework that leads the agency to achieving environmental stewardship,” Armhold said. “Recycling, food waste reduction, energy and water conservation, and hazardous waste compliance are all part of DeCA’s ongoing commitment to lessening its carbon footprint.
“We take pride in delivering a commissary benefit that’s efficient, effective and protects the Earth’s resources.”