Texas National Guard recycling, it benefits you … and your unit?

Kenneth Zunker stands in front of recycling trailers at the Texas Military Forces recycling facility on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.
Kenneth Zunker stands in front of recycling trailers at the Texas Military Forces recycling facility on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Zunker, the manager of the recycling center, hopes to use recycling trailers to help increase the reach of the recycling program throughout Texas. Based in Austin, the program serves service members at more than 100 locations throughout the state. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mary Jo Snavely)

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle


 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Reduce, reuse, recycle – most people recognize this mantra, words that promote a greener tomorrow. But according to retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ken Zunker, these are more than just words; they are words to live by. 

 Zunker, recycling operations coordinator and manager for the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Qualified Recycling Program, works as a part of a four-man operation that currently serves TXMF locations across Texas. Although the recycling efforts had already been started, the program was not qualified by the National Guard Bureau until 2010. In 2011, Zunker came on and by 2012 TXMF opened its first dedicated recycling facility.

 “Reuse is part of recycling” - he stated, indicating that it applies to both TXMF and the surrounding communities. When  the old 51st Street Armory, which was located near the Austin/Bergstrom International Airport, closed in May 2012,  service members recycled 893 tons of refuse. Within that pile were 24 small desks. Camp Mabry’s program does not  currently recycle wood, but that did not stop Zunker from finding a way to recycle those desks.

 After coordinating with the Texas Army National Guard’s Youth Services Program located at Camp Mabry, Zunker found a home for each desk.

 The desks were in excellent condition and exactly the right size for children, said Bob Hankins, the Child and Youth Program Lead for TXMF.

Hankins said he reached out to the Austin Independent School District and discovered that Barrington Elementary School had been given a portable classroom, but did not yet have the funding to fully furnish the classroom. According to Hankins, he worked with Zunker to ensure Barrington Elementary received all 24 desks, further enabling the school’s teaching abilities.

Since that day, Zunker and Hankins said they have worked together in an effort to benefit the families of both the service members and the local community. 

“He will stop by my office with a bunch of recycled gift bags wanting to know if we can find a use for them,” said Hankins. “He does little things like that and it has helped lots and lots of kids. If I get a request for something, like tables, we will tell Ken and he will keep an eye out for that item.”

Zunker stated that the recycling crew often fills special requests of these types. One of his most common requests is boxes from people who are moving. If given at least a week’s notice, Zunker said the crew will set aside large boxes for anyone who asks.
Zunker said he believes in reusing as much as possible, always looking for someone who might benefit from the items that are dropped off at the recycle center.

“It feels good to be able to help others,” he said.

Zunker retired from the Texas Army National Guard in 2008. He served as a maintenance chief for 37 and a half years - as a Soldier, then as a civil servant.

After being retired for six months, Zunker said he was “bored stiff and tired of talking to the dog.” Zunker went on stating that during this time he accepted a position in supply with the Texas Military Forces Combined Support Maintenance Shop in Saginaw. It was there that Zunker caught the recycle bug.

“I noticed all of this scrap metal lying around,” said Zunker. “I figured I could recycle it, but wasn’t sure how to. So I did the research and found out how to (within regulation) recycle and sell it.”

Zunker’s experience prompted him to apply for the recycle coordinator position that he now holds. 

“One of my goals, and it might happen next year, is to be able to give 25 dollars per service member to the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation account each year,” said Zunker. 

According to the Department of Defense, the Qualified Recycling Program is a cost beneficial recycling program that follows strict regulations. Specific guidance on how to sell recycled products for a price is outlined.

Based on regulations, money made from the recycled products will first cover all of the program’s expenses. The remaining funds are then split between pollution prevention projects, for example, purchasing spill kits for any unit in need, and the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation account, to be used for any morale or welfare activity.

“We are already spending money to dispose of waste,” said Leon McCowan, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act Manager for TXMF. “Why not spend that same money to recycle as much as possible, and then get a little money back?”

According to the program’s financial reports, the recycle program has made over 20 thousand dollars so far this year. With the new brass deformer, a machine that crunches brass casings, the recycle crew can now recycle brass, which, according to Zunker, could triple the amount the program brings in each year. 

“We take almost anything, we are about landfill diversion,” said Zunker.

Although most people probably think of paper, plastic and cardboard when they see the green and blue recycle bins, Zunker said the facility can recycle much more than that. On top of the normal recyclables one might think of, Camp Mabry’s recycling center also accepts old cell phones, rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, compact disks, old floppy disks, any kind of wiring or cable, used ink cartridges and anything made of metal.

This past spring the recycle program was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s South Central Federal Green Challenge in the waste category. TXMF was awarded with a Federal Green Challenge award recognizing the dramatic decrease in the amount of waste disposed, resulting from the dramatic increase of recycling.

According to the 2011 facility recycle tracker, 222 tons were recycled; in 2012, 311 tons were recycled. The amount continues to increase, so far this year over 1,000 tons have been recycled.

“[Zunker] came in and grabbed the bull by the horns,” McCowan said. “Where we are now is because of his innovation and integrity. He has made this program visible and by making it visible it stays on people’s minds.” 

Additional program reports show more than 100 TXMF locations are recycling used oil and scrap metal, but 27 of these spots have a more developed recycle program set up. Zunker’s goal is to expand the program to reach every unit. One of his ideas, to help expand the program, is to supply units with a recycling trailer, giving each unit the ability to drop off a full trailer at any TXMF recycling hub.

“Mr. Zunker had to be the backbone of this program. When he started he was by himself, but now it has become a real team effort. State Maintenance, many others from [the Construction and Facilities Management Office] and definitely service members have provided their assistance when possible. The success of this program could not have been done without the hard work of the entire team,” said McCowan. 

It seems that everywhere Zunker goes, people both like and respect him. He is often seen smiling and saying hello to people as he walks by. He might even stop to ensure you are recycling your empty ink cartridges.

Hankins said he especially likes the energy that Zunker brings to the recycle program, adding,
“He is a guy with the passion to create a self-sustaining program that will benefit every person in the Texas Military Forces, not just Camp Mabry.” 

For more information, on the TXMF Recycling Program or to get started on recycling at your TXMF location, contact Ken Zunker or Maj. (Ret.) Penny Chencharick, the TXMF Recycling Plans Coordinator, at (512) 782-6838 or (512) 782-6683.