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Amtrak Gets All Aboard with Recycling

Oakland Maintenance Facility Wins Award from StopWaste

Where do Amtrak trains go for service, maintenance, inspection and repair? In California, two facilities share the responsibility for keeping the railroad cars in tiptop shape—one in Los Angeles, the other in Oakland. Spreading over 22 acres, the Oakland site performs routine maintenance on 18 locomotives and 83 passenger cars, and handles the daily turn around servicing for the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, and California Zephyr. “There’s lots to be done—everything from cleaning trains inside and out, taking out garbage and recyclables, safety inspections and all sorts of repairs from broken windows to mechanical repairs,” explains Kris Moy, Environmental Coordinator for Amtrak’s Bay District. Since 2008, Amtrak has worked to increase and improve recycling at the site, with impressive results: Today the facility recycles 58.5 tons of plate glass, unrepairable pallets, scrap metal, plastics, cardboard and other materials from maintenance operations each year, in addition to bottles, cans and paper collected from passenger cars. They also compost close to 20 tons of food scraps annually. Local public agency StopWaste, whose staff has supported Amtrak in their waste trimming efforts from the beginning, honored the achievements with the 2011 StopWaste Business Leadership Award, presented during a ceremony at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on October 28.
 

On the Right Track with Recycling

A first step in moving the Amtrak facility toward recycling was an assessment of the materials generated, performed by StopWaste staff. They also consulted with Moy on what kind of containers would best help capture the various materials and provided lists of local vendors to pick up the recyclables. Several of the new receptacles—for example tip hoppers to capture safety glass from broken windows—were purchased with a $5,000 grant from StopWaste, which also helped pay to color-code the maintenance facility’s large recycling dumpsters for different materials. “The bin for scrap metal is gray, for window glass blue, for compost green, and so on. Anything we can do to make it easy for our workers to place materials into the right containers,” notes Moy.
 

Getting Staff on Board

With shifts starting as early as 6 A.M., separating waste for recycling is not necessarily top of mind for the Oakland facility’s almost 150 employees. To get everybody on board with the new recycling program, Amtrak organized a kick-off party for each of the three shifts, where StopWaste and recycling hauler staff explained the changes, while workers enjoyed a free meal. But that was only a start. “We’re asking people to take a little more time to sort their trash, we need everyone’s support to be successful” observes Moy. One particular problem has been the contamination of recyclable materials with disposable blue latex gloves, used for cleaning and repair jobs and frequently tossed into the recycling bins at the end of a shift. Moy realized that signage alone couldn’t correct the situation and launched the “Blue Glove Pledge” during the facility’s 2011 Earth Day event, asking employees to commit to proper disposal of the gloves with their signature. Over 100 signed on, and the pledge list was publicly displayed on the premises. Moy is pleased: “We definitely see a lot fewer gloves—as well as other contamination—in the bins now.” In the break rooms, Video monitors streaming safety procedure slides are now interspersed with reminders about recycling and food scrap composting. “Infrastructure alone is not enough. You have to keep talking about it,” concludes Moy.  “What makes a company successful in recycling is not the program, but the individual employee taking the time to choose to do the right thing. Each one of them makes a difference.  When the employees believe in it, the results will come.” 
 

Green Light from Management

Amtrak’s Oakland Maintenance Facility currently relies on a handful of employees in charge of the recycling program, in addition to their day-to-day tasks. Nevertheless, they have full support from senior management, who has made it clear that Amtrak considers environmental protection an important value and a competitive advantage for the corporation. Moy notes: “Our superintendent Matt Reddell, not only supports our recycling program, but contributes his own green suggestions from purchasing and using environmentally-friendly cleaning chemicals to switching to LED light bulbs on the locomotives. Jeff White, our Senior Environmental Coordinator is ready to provide technical feedback and hands-on support. Jeff will come out late at night to monitor the recycling program on the off-shifts, and make recommendations based on employee feedback and his own observations.” Amtrak now has a dedicated “green” section on their website and is actively pushing onboard recycling on all their trains—a challenging task since recycling rules and availability differ widely across the nation. 
 

Next Stop: Waste Prevention

Back at the Oakland Maintenance Facility, Moy continues to put that green philosophy into action on the ground. Shifting focus from capturing recyclables in the waste stream to preventing waste before it happens, she initiated a reuse program for cleaning and maintenance rags. Used for everything from cleaning windows to absorbing solvents and engine oils, the rags were routinely discarded as hazardous waste. “It’s expensive to dispose of the used rags as hazardous waste,” remembers Moy. After researching best practices, she switched to a laundering service that picks up used rags and drops off clean ones weekly. “It’s less wasteful, and maybe even a bit cheaper,” she concludes.  The Amtrak Oakland Maintenance Facility is now part of a pilot study to explore the possibility of eliminating passenger-sorted recycling to capture even more recyclables from the train.
 
StopWaste’s business services are available at no charge to all medium and large businesses and institutions in Alameda County. Services and resources include technical assistance, grant funding and educational materials. For more information please click here or contact us.
 
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