FORT LEE, Va. – As the world celebrates 52 years of Earth Day on April 22 and the awareness it brings, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) is highlighting the steps it takes every day to reduce its environmental footprint through recycling and diversion, food donations and the sale of environmentally friendly products.
Since the inception of its environmental program in 2005, DeCA has recycled or diverted over 1.9 billion pounds of solid waste from landfills worldwide. That’s the equivalent of 1,939 fully loaded Boeing 747 jumbo jets being eliminated from landfills.
“It’s not just about Earth Day,” said Steven Edlavitch, DeCA environmental program manager. “The agency has made the commitment to our communities and that means we must also ensure we are doing everything we can to protect and bring sustainability to those communities.”
To fulfill its mission of reducing the agency’s footprint, commissaries recycle and divert different types of commodities. DeCA then sells the commodities and the proceeds are added to the surcharge funds, which pays for the construction of replacement stores, renovations, maintenance and repairs of existing stores, and the purchasing of new equipment and store-level information technology systems. The sale of cardboard, plastic and office paper has generated over $57 million in surcharge funds since 2005. In 2021, DeCA recycled or diverted the following commodities:
- Aluminum cans – 1,587 pounds
- Cardboard – 70,182,331 pounds
- Compost – 8,487,554 pounds
- Fat and bones – 1,076,858 pounds
- Food donations – 4,466,361 pounds
- Food recovery (organics) – 77,320 pounds
- Local farm – 610,711 pounds
- Metal – 54,410 pounds
- Office paper – 44,348 pounds
- Other recyclables – 29,081 pounds
- Plastic – 4,074,070 pounds
- Rotisserie chicken oil – 82,227 pounds
- Toner cartridges – 72 pounds
- Wood – 2,614,418 pounds
- Wood pallets – 3,291,821 pounds
The agency also sells outdated or surplus equipment. “By using a liquidation service to help sell out-of-use items, we have supported the environment by diverting 1.5 million pounds of used equipment from landfills,” said Edlavitch. “We also boosted the commissary benefit at the same time with the sale of these items, generating over $4.1 million in surcharge revenue.”
Another part of DeCA’s environmental program is the agency’s food bank program that donates edible but unsellable food to local food banks around the country. In 2021, the agency donated over 4.4 million pounds of edible but unsellable food. Since 2012, when the program started, the agency has donated over 32 million pounds of food, eliminating approximately 2.6 million pounds of methane gas, a detrimental greenhouse gas. DeCA currently has 196 approved (DoD) food banks and 174 commissaries supporting local foodbanks.
“The pandemic created a large demand for food donations,” said Edlavitch. “Helping food-insecure families is our social responsibility. And as an added bonus, donating food also reduces our environmental impact. We will continue to look for opportunities to donate food to help support our communities.”
DeCA also participates in the Feds Feed Families Food Drive, a voluntary federal-wide and nationwide effort for employees to collect and donate food for those in need. The USDA oversees the program and DeCA manages the DoD Feds Feed Families program. The 2021 campaign, which was conducted from June 1 to Aug. 31, collected just over 7.5 million pounds for donation to food banks. Commissary customers and DeCA employees were responsible for donating 2.4 million pounds or 66 percent of the DOD wide total of 3.7 million pounds.
Even the commissary buildings contribute to the overall mission. Many of them have been built to or have been renovated to minimize their carbon footprint. Many of the stores have glass doors on their refrigeration units, they take advantage of natural light and use solar power units and LED lighting when possible. Some stores also have low- to no-maintenance flooring which helps to reduce the chemicals and equipment needed to strip and polish floors reducing the overall cost to run stores. The agency is also working to convert or upgrade existing HVAC units and other store technologies to help reduce the footprint further.
The last part of the agency’s mission is offering environmentally friendly products for commissary customers. Products that can reduce the customers’ impact on the environment can be found in almost every section of the store. Customers can choose from organic produce, energy-saving compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs, high-efficiency laundry products and environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Customers can also find products with reduced packaging like paper towels and bathroom tissue without the cardboard tubes.
The commissary also features a commissary store brand, Full Circle Market, that provides sustainable, simple and better choices through all-natural ingredients, while not costing a fortune or sacrificing taste. According to the brand’s website, their “organic foods are farmed and produced without chemical treatments and processing. Full Circle Market organic foods have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
Customers can also buy reusable shopping bags while shopping in their commissaries to help reduce the number of plastic bags being sent to landfills.
“While Earth Day may bring awareness to the systems and processes we have in place to help protect the environment, sustainability is something that is ingrained in how the commissaries do business,” said Edlavitch. “Our customers can count on us to be good stewards of the military and global communities.”