Trash disposal in Italy costs U.S. taxpayers a heap of cash
March 9, 2008
Facilities used by the U.S. military around Italy have to dispose of tons of garbage and recyclable material every day, costing U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
The Army and Air Force expect to pay about 2.6 million euros — about $3.8 million — to Italian companies to take away recyclable and nonrecyclable materials from Aviano Air Base, Caserma Ederle/Villagio in Vicenza and Camp Darby in 2008.
And those numbers just reflect the material collected on base. The U.S. government also pays out money for servicemembers and civilians who live off base to have material collected from their homes in the form of housing allowance or utility payments. Those numbers aren’t tracked.
Efforts in recent years in Vicenza and Camp Darby have raised the percentage of recyclable material collected on base to more than 40 percent last year.
Jonathan Koch, chief of construction maintenance for the directorate of public works in Vicenza, said the base has made recycling about as easy as it can for soldiers and civilians working there.
“We really don’t have any places around the base where there are just straight trash cans,” he said. “You’re faced with the option of four recycling opportunities.”
Traditional trash cans have been replaced by four separate receptacles in which people are expected to sort glass/metal, paper, plastics and general refuse. Similar receptacles have been placed in many offices around the base, Koch said, helping the community reach a recyclable rate of 45 percent last year. That rate, provided by AIM — the Italian company that provides trash pickup services on base — was only 15 percent in 2001.
The ratio of recyclable material to the amount of overall trash isn’t as directly important to Vicenza and Camp Darby as it is to Aviano. The Army pays a flat rate for the service in Vicenza that’s not tied directly to how much trash it produces. The fee at Camp Darby is based on building square footage, not trash collected.
That isn’t the case at Aviano, where the Air Force could be paying about 1.1 million euros this year, depending on how well the base recycles.
Kurt Aktansel, an environmental engineer with the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, said he believes the base could save “an enormous amount of money” if those on base did a better job sorting refuse. That’s because contractor Ambienti Servici charges 3 euro cents per kilogram to pick up recyclable materials and 18 euro cents for dry waste. Garbage companies have to pass on the costs they pay at collection centers. Those centers can make money off recyclable materials, but it’s too expensive to sort through mixed waste, which ends up in landfills.
Someone tossing leftovers from lunch into a container that’s properly filled with glass is turning that whole container into mixed waste, Aktansel said.
“And when they mix it, it’s six times the cost,” he said.
He said budget cuts mean that the base can’t afford to place specialized receptacles in everyone’s office.
But he said people could improvise if they wanted to and said they shouldn’t have to travel too far to the nearest proper disposal site.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s not hard,” he said.
Though they don’t have as direct an incentive to recycle as Aviano, officials in Vicenza and Camp Darby say they believe they could be facing potential fines if they don’t meet goals established by the Italian government. Koch said a 2006 law mandates that municipalities recycle at least 45 percent of the material they produce by the end of this year. By 2012, the percentage is supposed to climb to 65 percent.
“It gets harder to raise the percentage as you get higher,” Koch said. “But that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
How much waste?
Just how much waste do members of American military communities in Italy generate?
The overall numbers, which would include the refuse produced individually by thousands of people in hundreds of communities, is nearly impossible to track.
But military officials track how much trash and recycled materials are generated on base.
¶ Camp Darby, near Livorno, produced almost 1.05 million kilograms (about 2.30 million pounds) of nonrecyclable waste in fiscal 2007. It also produced 680,000 kilograms of wood and cardboard, more than 66,000 kilograms of paper and almost 14,000 kilograms of plastic and glass.
The Army will pay 460,343 euros to dispose what it produces there this year, based on the square footage of buildings it occupies on base.
¶ Vicenza, with a much larger military population, produced 3.13 million kilograms of material (recyclable and nonrecyclable) last year. It paid 1.04 million euros to collect that in 2007.
¶ Aviano generated 964,475 kilograms of waste from October to January.
¶ At Naples’ Capodichino base, tenants produced 461,095 kilograms of nonrecyclable waste in 2007, along with 148,095 kilograms of plastic and glass and 19,180 kilograms of metals.
¶ On Sigonella’s NAS I and NAS II bases combined, the tenants produced nearly 1.5 million kilograms of nonrecyclable waste, 151,840 kilograms of plastic, paper and cardboard, and 35,880 kilograms of aluminum, glass and wood.
— Kent Harris and Sandra Jontz