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Brass recycling nets money for soldier benefits

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FORT DRUM — Call it top dollar brass: a booming business in selling expended ammunition is boosting recycling efforts and depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year into programs and services on post.

Brass casings left on the ground of firing ranges after training exercises are collected, demilled and sold through the post’s Qualified Recycling Program. In fiscal year 2012, the sale of 119.59 tons generated $493,474, or just about $2.06 per pound. The year before, 143.72 tons generated $810,603.36, equal to $2.82 per pound.

“It’s a cash cow in the recycling game,” said James W. Corriveau, the post’s director of public works.

For 2012, the money raised by brass recycling was more than double than the combined total raised by other listed recyclables, such as cardboard, steel and used motor oil. The post also recycles a wide range of less profitable household hazardous items, electronic waste and shipping goods.

“The bottom line is getting them out of the waste stream,” Mr. Corriveau said. Recently, the post launched an alkaline battery recycling program, one of only a few Armywide.

In the past few years, the recycling program, boosted by brass sales, has generated enough to cover its costs, primarily a labor contract with the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center, and make hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers programs.

“When we can put those funds into these programs, we can improve their services without hitting up the taxpayers,” Mr. Corriveau said.

Supplies of expended brass casings vary with the number of soldiers on post and available training sessions. The casings are collected and sent to the post ammo supply point after range training is completed, with soldiers told to collect a set weight of casings based on the number of rounds fired.

The casings, consisting of about 70 percent brass and ranging in size from 5.56 millimeter to .50 caliber, are then brought to the post transfer station. After being cleared of explosive hazards and residues, the brass is run through a deformer, then placed in boxes before a suitable weight level is reached for it to be sold and shipped, in quantities that can be as much as 20 tons.

“There’s a high demand for it,” said Dean Clark, operations leader for the post’s refuse and recycling program. He said the brass usually is melted down by buyers to make items such as grounding rods and bathroom fixtures.

The disposal of brass on post has drawn interest online following incomplete accusations that the post had not followed proper procedure to clear the material, citing the fiscal year 2010 Department of Defense appropriations bill that restricted the demilitarization and disposal of certain small arms ammunition, listed as .50-caliber and smaller.

However, the policy was superseded in fiscal year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which said the previous year’s guidance would not be used to impair operations of Qualified Recycling Programs that rely on sales of destroyed brass ammunition to support recycling or Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, such as the ones at Fort Drum.

It also said the Defense Department would not expend resources to determine whether casings are serviceable for nonmilitary purposes.

Mr. Corriveau said the post does not have a competitive regional buyer of casings in original form, with vendors either offering about six or seven cents less per pound or requesting orders too small for the post to gain value.

“If the market isn’t there, what are you going to do?” Mr. Corriveau said.

Even for vendors that have offered similar or better prices compared with destroyed brass, the post has been asked to take on the cost of shipping out of the region and the effort of sorting through casings.

“I don’t have the manpower for that,” Mr. Clark said.

Among the concerns listed about the brass clearing is that it limits the supply of ammunition for private gun owners.

Mr. Corriveau, who said he is a member of the National Rifle Association, said that he understood some of the concern with the availability of ammunition, and that he has purchased ammunition from Atlanta Arms & Ammo, which remanufactures used bullets.

“If a competitive price was there, we’d do it tomorrow,” he said.

The fiscal year 2010 policy can be found at www.scribd.com/doc/125728016/OSD-Memo-30-Dec-2009. The fiscal year 2011 clarification can be found at www.scribd.com/doc/125727922/Commercial-Sale-of-ESACC-USA002615-11.

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