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EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina — For years, soldiers’ plastic soda bottles ended up in the garbage.

Now, the military has started a recycling program that will leave the environment cleaner and may even start a new industry.

“I was astounded that there wasn’t a recycling program,” said Joe Phelan of the public works department at Eagle Base.

Recycling in Bosnian communities is almost nonexistent. Some metal and wood was getting sorted out of the trash and recycled. But not plastic.

Recycling bins have been installed on the base, and officials estimate that 418 tons of plastic will end up being recycled yearly.

“Plastic bottles in the environment are definitely not the way to go,” Phelan said. “We haven’t been doing that great of a job up to this point, but hopefully we will be.”

The biggest problem was finding someone to recycle the plastic. A previous recycling attempt in 1999 failed because the recycling industry was not running yet.

“It failed because the cost of economic facts,” said Harald Arndt, a German entrepreneur whose company, Süd Müll, will recycle the plastic. “The cost for treating of plastic and transportation had been higher than the value of material.”

This time around, Arndt has started a cooperation with the biggest recycling company in Austria, which supplied him with equipment for shredding plastic and turning it into chips. The chips are shipped to Austria, where the plastic will be turned into new bottles.

The military also hopes to include the plastic from Kosovo in the recycling program.

A number of trucks go to Kosovo from Bosnia every week taking supplies, and return empty. Now, plastic bottles will be loaded on them.

“That’s how the program [from Kosovo] can be almost invisible cost,” said Capt. Keith Taylor of U.S. Contracting Command Europe and the chief of Joint Contracting Center in Bosnia.

An aluminum can recycling program also has started in Kosovo, said Maj. Paul Silberquit of 415th Civil Affair Command.

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave a loan to a Kosovo business to purchase a furnace to melt aluminum. The agency also put the business in touch with the American military. Now, when the soldiers finish their drinks and put the cans in the recycling bin, those cans are being turned into construction material.

Phelan hopes that the recycling programs will lead to a cleaner world, despite all of the garbage that can been seen tossed on the side of the roads.

“We want to do the right thing regardless of what the Bosnians are doing,” Taylor said. “This is how we do it at home. ... Why would we lower our standards in another country?”

The plan is to eventually end up with only 7 percent of composted garbage from the U.S. bases in landfills, Phelan said.

“No matter what the cost, to be able to get these out of the environment is truly worth it,” he said. “It’s a small drop in the bucket for a cleaner environment.”


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