Robins finds a market for tons of recyclable materials

With an industrial-strength saw, Art Ramsay surgically carved out copper tubes -- and with them, profits -- from an air-conditioning unit Tuesday.

“I got three more just like this,” said Ramsey, a part-time civilian employee of Robins Air Force Base. When he finished, the unit’s copper, steel, aluminum and wiring were each put in separate containers.

The piles of scrap are the base’s new cash crop.

Last fall, the base began selling its scrap metal and batteries to private companies in Middle Georgia. In the six months since, the base has collected 277 tons of scrap material, earning about $75,000.

Air conditioners, desks, batteries and electrical cables have become sources of revenue. Metal scraps used in aircraft maintenance on base are prohibited from being recycled and sold.

The success of the program has given base officials hope that the program could pay for itself, and then some.

“Our first objective is to cover our total recycling costs,” said Susan Green, the solid waste program manager for the 78th Air Base Wing. Profits that exceed the costs of the recycling program could be reinvested in other base operations, including pollution prevention efforts and morale events, Green said.

Similar recycling programs existed at Robins well before the base started selling its scrap metal, but no other resource has generated quite the amount of money.

“There are other things that are being recycled at Robins Air Force Base,” Green said. “The scrap metal market is one that does very well.”

Very well indeed. Green said she hopes to generate about $150,000 this fiscal year and upward of $200,000 a year in the future.

The most frequent client of the program is Macon Iron, a municipal and industrial waste and recycling company. The company has paid as much as $28,000 in a month for scrap metal from the base, Green said.

“We ship it to a mill to be processed into new materials,” said Evan Koplin, president and co-owner of Macon Iron.

To a certain extent, the scrap-metal recycling program was born out of necessity. The federal government mandates that each military installation divert half of its waste away from landfills. More than 10,000 tons of waste are generated every year at Robins.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.