Save some green with recycling

Put some cash back in your DOC’s wallet with these reduction programs

By Paul Sheldon

In this era of tight budgets, one great place to start saving money is through reducing waste and recycling. 

The American Correctional Association Policy on Environmentally Responsible and Sustainability-Oriented Practices states:

“… (P)ublic and private agencies at the federal, state, and local levels should:  Promote and engage in recycling efforts… Each facility and program should pursue all reasonable alternatives that have the effect of an overall reduction in the waste stream.“ 

One easy reference for getting started on a waste-reduction and recycling program is the National Institute of Justice Corrections Center of Excellence’s Greening Corrections Technology Guidebook, which you can download for free, here.

Various institutions and programs have taken different approaches to waste reduction and recycling. For example, at Putnamville, Indiana, the program began with three colored trashcans in each residence facility, which reduced the institution’s trash bill by more than $100,000 in the first year. 

During the second year, the sale of the recyclable materials produced additional revenue stream over $100,000.   The Putnamville program has an additional feature of providing apprenticeship training and certification through the U.S. Department of Labor.

In Washington State, recycling and waste reduction programs have been introduced in all facilities, saving money on everything from bottles and cans to bicycles, tires, and food waste. For example, the recycling and waste reduction programs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center have been so successful, total waste has been reduced to a very small amount of medical and biological items – the rest is recycled. Significant effort has been made throughout the Washington State system to prevent waste, by reducing the amount of packaging and shipping materials entering the facilities.

Through the leadership of State Director Salvador Godinez and Executive Director Jen Aholt, Illinois Correctional Industries provides a stellar example of formulating statewide plans to capitalize on recycling opportunities, including providing job training in a pilot program for making biodiesel fuel to power Department of Corrections Vehicles. 

County jails, such as those in Boulder, Colorado, have in the past been able to share in revenue from inmates working at the local county recycling center. In Boulder, this provided sufficient revenue to fund composting and gardening facilities at the jail. As early as 1996, inmates from the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex staffed a regional 7-county recycling center.

In keeping with Presidential Executive Order #13514, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is planning for ways to have ZERO waste from federal facilities by 2030. 

The BOP’s UNICOR program operates electronics recycling programs at 7 federal prisons that have been the source of significant complaints, due to health hazards.  These hazards have been successfully mitigated by other contractors, such as, which operates innovative programs in Kentucky and Ohio, joining correctional institutions with community partners to provide pre-release training and post-release employment for incarcerated persons, through recycling of electronic wastes. 

Waste reduction and recycling offer the combined advantages of reducing costs, increasing revenue, providing pre-release training, and post-release employment opportunities for formerly-incarcerated individuals.

Paul Sheldon is a Senior Advisor for Natural Capitalism Solutions, a founding member of the American Correctional Association's Clean and Green committee, and a member of the Board of Trustees of 

Sources: p. 97
Site visit by the author, September, 2012.
personal communication between the author and Commander Bruce Haas, Boulder County Jail, 2010

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