On-Site Incident Recycling

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Vision: Achieving net zero waste at all large fire incidents by 2030

Mission:  Integrating sustainable operation's best management practices into the fire community


How much trash is generated in our offices compared to wildfire incidents?

During the 2017 fire year, the Greening Fire Team (GFT) estimates:

  • Forest Service offices in Arizona and New Mexico generated roughly 6.98 million pounds of trash.
  • Fire camps in the Southwest Geographic Area Coordination Center (Region 3) generated roughly 6.1 million pounds of trash on incidents (based off of the number of personnel on fires and the duration of fires).
  • This means that 47% (almost ½) of Forest Service trash in this region came from incidents!

From past waste audits, we have observed that 40-70% of the waste from fire camps is recyclable and/or compostable.

What is the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) rules or policies regarding recycling?

Executive Order 13834, Efficient Federal Operations, Sec 2.4 (17 May 2018) requires all federal agencies to:

  • Implement waste prevention and recycling measures and comply with all federal requirements; track and report performance measures.

USDA's Environmental DR 5600-005 requires agencies to:

  • Divert 50% of non-hazardous solid waste by FY 2013, divert 55% of non-hazardous solid waste by FY 2014, and divert 50% of construction and demolition waste by FY 2015.
  • Promote innovative ideas.

Myth Busters

Myth Buster #1 - Recycling on wildfires is too expensive

Is contracted incident recycling more expensive than doing it “in-house”?  After interviewing various incident commanders and logistics chiefs, it was reasonable to assume that an in-house incident recycling program would require a 4-person AD-C team, plus AD-D squad boss for squad/camp crew labor, SusOps Tech Management (equivalent of an AD-K), and an estimated 6 hours per day of the Logistics or Facility Unit Leader.

Based off current wages, the cost of providing in-house recycling services at a fire camp of 1,000 personnel is estimated between roughly $2,400 and $3,900. The cost to contract on-site incident recycling services is actually lower, at $1,450 to $3,050 per day, or roughly $2.25 per person per day, on a 1,000 personnel fire camp.

Putting it in Perspective
When we compare the cost of incident recycling to other common services at fire camps, it may be surprising to learn that port-a-potties and hand wash stations cost nearly three times as much as incident recycling when there are 1,000 people at a fire camp. On the Whitewater Fire in 2017, the contracted incident recycling amounted to only .05% of the daily fire camp operating costs!

The Cost of Doing Nothing
Clearly, there is a cost for contracting incident recycling, however, there is also a cost for not recycling, especially if our community landfills reach their maximum capacity prematurely, since a new landfill is estimated to cost between $11.9 and $27.5 million in taxpayer dollars, plus the continued cost of hauling and tipping fees for solid waste disposal.

The in-house cost estimate was based on 2017 Interagency Business Management Handbook personnel salaries. Cost of Forest Service vehicles and fuel is not included.


Myth Buster #2 - Recycling isn't available in my area.

How many people who you know have remarked that “recycling isn’t available in my area?”

Many may not realize that the smart device in their hand can very quickly inform them where to drop-off recyclables and other waste items. The “iRecycle” app can direct you where to take 350 different materials (including standard recyclable items like cardboard, paper, plastic, and glass, as well as items like electronics, batteries, automotive parts, etc). This app is worth a look, and we hope you will give it a try!

The “iRecycle” application was developed by Earth911. Earth911 is an excellent, online resource for learning more about the recycling industry, where you can drop off recyclables in your local area, as well as eco-friendly technologies and even home and garden tips and tricks.

In addition, check out the National Recycling Coalition (NRC). The NRC is a large, non-profit organization that endeavors to boost public awareness related to reducing consumption, reusing old items, and recycling. Many states have similar state-based recycling coalitions as well. These recycling coalitions often have websites with searchable information related to waste diversion and recycling by county (or city) and also by commodity.


Contact Us

Email the Greening Fire Team for more information or to provide feedback regarding fire-related sustainable operations successes or challenges.  We look forward to hearing from you!