EPA Recognizes Vallejo, Calif.-Based USDA Forest Service Operation for Innovative Zero Waste Wildfire Response Initiative

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes federal facilities in California and nationwide for effectively applying measures to conserve money and resources as part of the Federal Green Challenge program. The Challenge is a national EPA effort which encourages federal agencies to reduce the federal government’s environmental impact.

“We recognize the Forest Service’s initiative and teamwork approach to reducing waste during wildfire response incidents. This effort constitutes a replicable model of sustainable disaster response operations,” said EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator John Busterud.

Under the Federal Green Challenge program, the USDA Forest Service Region 5 in Vallejo, Calif. has won the Regional Innovation Award. Their work in establishing the National Greening Fire Team (GFT) to achieve net zero waste at all large fire incidents by 2030 and integrating sustainable operations best practices into the fire community merits this national recognition.

“The GFT’s efforts are in direct service to the USDA Forest Service’s conservation mission,” said Kelly Jaramillo, the Forest Service Region 3 sustainable operations coordinator and Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) program lead. “USFS Fire operations have an extensive supply chain, resulting in substantial resource consumption. The scope of wildfire response efforts presents an opportunity to manifest our mission through efficient federal operations.”

The GFT, comprised of 18 members from the USDA Forest Service, is a partnership with the Washington Office of Fire & Aviation Management that serves to research, recommend, and assist with implementing sustainability best practices in incident operations.

2019 Team achievements included:

  1. Commitment from senior leadership announced in a “Sustainable Operations in Incident Management – Preparing for the 2019 Fire Season” memo;
  2. Establishment of a public Greening Fire Team website, quarterly Bulletin, webinar series, and Ambassador Program to green incident operations; and
  3. Execution of an On-site Incident Recycling BPA spanning Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

The three-year BPA was activated on nine fire responses in 2019 and waste diversion results are updated weekly on the online Incident Waste Diversion Dashboard. BPA recycling vendors diverted an average of 46 percent of waste in the Southwest and an average of 43 percent of waste in northern California. Those recyclable materials were made into new products instead of being hauled to local community landfills.

The GFT found that the cost-benefit analysis demonstrated that, in many cases, vendor-led recycling is less costly than past waste management practices. Materials recycled included cardboard, mixed paper, plastics #1 and #2, aluminum and steel cans, and wood pallets. Incident Management Teams sometimes also chose to divert difficult-to-manage batteries and cooking oil.

Sample “Triple” Recycle Station near morning briefing area (Cellar Fire, Southwest Coordination Center)

In fiscal year 2019 (FY19), national Federal Green Challenge participants reduced their environmental impact throughout the waste stream, including:

  • Sending nearly 180 tons of end-of-life electronics to third-party certified recyclers.
  • Diverting more than 600,000 tons of waste from landfills.
  • Adding nearly 5,000 electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles to their fleets.
  • Recycling 180 million gallons of water.

For more information on the Federal Green Challenge and this year’s winners, visit https://www.epa.gov/fgc.

For more information on the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program, visit https://www.epa.gov/smm.

For more information on the Forest Service Greening Fire Team – Sustainability and Fire work, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire/sustainable-ops

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