At six feet, five inches tall with a bushy beard and thick North Carolina accent, Eric Rabuck is probably not the first person who comes to mind when most people think of an environmentalist. But, as an avid hunter and outdoorsman, Rabuck, the recycling program manager for Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Susquehanna, says he wants future generations to be able to enjoy nature in the same way he has.
“I want it to be around for everybody,” says Rabuck. “There’s only so much land and sooner or later we’re going to run out of room. We’ve got to stop throwing garbage into our oceans and landfills. Newer generations are trying to do something about it, but everybody needs to be on the same page.”
In the meantime, Rabuck is using America Recycles Day to highlight what Defense Distribution Center Susquehanna is doing to help save the planet.
With 4,700 workers occupying 848 acres of land, DLA’s New Cumberland-based installation is the size of a small city. Inevitably, such a large population generates an equally large amount of waste. Rabuck says much of that waste is not only reusable, but some of it can sold in order to fund local jobs.
“I supervise four employees, which are all non-appropriated funded,” he says. “Their pay comes from the commodities that we sell, which goes into a recycling account that we draw out of to pay their paychecks.”
Rabuck and his team collect, sort, catalog and redistribute everything from office paper to wires from old buildings.
“We take everything from antifreeze, oil, florescent bulbs, carboard, paper, scrap wood, certain types of metals…you name it,” Rabuck says. “As long as we can recycle something without ensuing extra costs, we do it.”
A particularly popular program run by his office is the recycling of wooden pallets. Home to the Eastern Distribution Center, the largest warehouse in the Department of Defense, the New Cumberland base utilizes millions of wooden pallets every year. Those that cannot be reused by the EDC are either sold to individuals or ground for mulch, reducing by Rabuck’s team, thereby reducing the EPA-estimated 11.1 million tons of wood received by landfills every year.
“A lot of people are using the wood from pallets to make furniture, decorate their gardens and all kinds of things, so there’s a reuse there,” he says. “And then, when the guy comes in and grinds, that’s also helping the environment because he shreds it and it’s used for tanbark, which goes back into the ground and eventually becomes soil.”
Non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass and aluminum are sold to a buyer who smelts the material and resells it to larger companies for manufacturing. Paper is hand-sorted by color, then sold to papermills to be re-pulped. Even lead-acid batteries, such as those used for golf carts and emergency lighting, can be cleaned, sold and used again.
One area outside his per view, Rabuck says, are “co-mingle” items such as glass, plastic and aluminum cans.
“We would have to have another machine and it would have to be in a clean area because you’re talking about liquids, you’re talking about sugar, then you’ve got pests and rodents,” he says. “The cost of the machine and additional employees would just be cost prohibitive.”
Although those materials do not profit DLA-Susquehanna financially, the amount collected is tallied and added to the meticulous records kept by Rabuck’s staff and used by Fairview Township to apply for state grants each year.
According to Donald F. Martin III, Fairview Township Manager, in 2018 his office received $70,000 in grant money from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection based on the amount of recycling contributed throughout the area. As the largest employer in the township and second largest employer in York County, DLA’s contribution was substantial.
“Our records show that DLA reported 528 tons of cardboard and 303 tons of ferrous metals recycled last year,” Martin says, which totals more than one-fifth the total amount of cardboard and one-third the amount of metal contributed by other businesses and more than 17,000 residents in the district.
“The people on this post are doing their share to take care of the environment,” Rabuck says. “Otherwise all of this would be in landfills and some of these landfills here in Pennsylvania are at capacity. I went to a recycling conference last year and interacted with probably 16 to 18 different vendors that deal with nothing but townships and municipalities and they were just astounded by what we’re doing.”