By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
It's not easy being green. It's not easy finding it at first either, but the more you look, the more there is.
"Green" is the best metaphor for the growth of environmental consciousness, because the movement is nothing if not grass-roots. Despite the best efforts of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, it takes the free will of individuals and companies to create any significant initiatives, from little wildflowers like home-based businesses to the broad fields of H-E-B and Wal-Mart exceeding any mandated standards.
The green growth is hard to track because there are so many angles to it from recycling efforts to eliminating toxins from the air in houses to conserving energy. It may never be quantified, but its stories pop up without end.
Recycling is the most visible and takes the most muscle, both human and mechanical. The city of Killeen's recycling manager, Peter DeLillo, reels off a list of about 35 companies and government agencies he has developed over 11 years of operations to contribute flattened boxes and waste paper. He works with three full-time and three part-time employees, and one pickup truck and a trailer. At that, the harvest has grown from about 400 tons the first year to 926 so far this year, and the staff is growing it carefully so that they don't get swamped and create frustration due to slow performance.
"We grow mainly by word of mouth," DeLillo said. "Right now I'm working on the downtown area.
"Some people are idealistic about it, and some look at the bottom line," he said. "If you have a large volume of waste, it saves money to have us pick it up and save on garbage bills."
Cardboard can be baled and sent to a center in Louisiana. Loose paper goes to a center in Waco that pays less because it's harder to deal with. Among contributors who jumped on the bandwagon early are the Dollar General store on U.S. 190, Lott, Vernon & Co., First Texas Bank, Hastings Books Music & Videos, Convergys, Zip Cleaners, Central Texas College and Tarleton State University-Central Texas. Many of Killeen's apartment complexes are also on board. Some bring their boxes to the recycling center if they have the capacity. DeLillo and his crew visit the premises of others.
And still, DeLillo says, he only collects about 5 percent of the waste Killeen could recycle if everybody joined in the effort.
George Ybarra, supervisor of property management and textbook coordinator for the Killeen Independent School District, ran a tab on paper and metal his department recycled for the district and came up with 502,370 pounds from September 2006 to October 2007. The recovery brought the district $6,826.54. The operation is independent of the city's recycling program.
Some of the biggest companies in the area have extensive environmental-sustainability programs.
H-E-B stores bale all their flattened cardboard and recycle it themselves. Company public affairs officer Leslie Lockett said it amounted to 100,000 tons for all stores in 2006. The company also recycled 1,300 tons of plastic bags customers returned to bins in the fronts of the stores last year.
Lockett pointed to the company's recent installation of E-85 ethanol pumps at fuel stations at selected stores, including the Trimmier store in Killeen, and said the firm is experimenting with a new fuel additive to decrease pollutants in its trucks in the Waco region.
Fluorescent store lighting automatically dims when natural light from skylights is bright enough, and the company pays cash premiums for recycled school bags, which are used entirely to make kitchen trash bags.
"It's a closed loop," she said. "Schoolchildren get to see directly what their contributions do."
Stores also recapture waste heat from machinery operating walk-in coolers to heat water for the entire store.
Wal-Mart is offering reusable shopping bags made from recycled plastic bottles for $1 each. Also, nationwide, the company set and reached a goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs and keeps tabs on sales of organic milk and promotes liquid laundry detergent, extended-life paper products and organic baby food.
No information was immediately available on the performance of these products in the local area.
In 2005, the company committed to three environmental goals: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain national resources and the environment.
John Toone of the electricity distributor Oncor said, "Since 2001, Oncor's energy efficiency programs have saved enough electricity to power 73,000 homes in Texas. In the Central Texas area, we are currently working with cities, school districts and Bell County to help identify potential energy saving projects in existing and new buildings."
He said a hybrid diesel-electric bucket truck introduced in May 2006 has been adopted in the regular fleet for six years.
The batteries store up to 25 kilowatts of electricity, enough to run the bucket for up to two hours without idling the truck's engine, resulting in fuel savings of up to 60 percent, reduced emissions, reduced maintenance and quiet operation. "This truck joins 300 other large Oncor vehicles that use bio-diesel consisting of 20 percent vegetable oil," he said.
Oncor also offers energy-saving tips for homes on its Web site to benefit both its own bottom line and the environment, a reflection by efforts in the homebuilding and home-inspection fields to build better houses.
Don Farek of Cameo Homes has said that all the houses he builds conform to the EPA's Energy Star specifications for maximum energy conservation. These specifications are higher than the international code followed by laws in Texas and most other states, but state law calls for all new homes to meet the international code starting Jan. 1.
"Up until now, some cities have been enforcing the code better than others," said Brad Phillips of Homespec Real Estate Inspections of Temple, formerly a board member of the Heart of Texas chapter of the Texas Association of Real Estate Inspectors. "Builders outside city limits haven't had to conform to the code at all. But the better builders have been stepping up to the plate voluntarily more and more."
Home inspection for these purposes mainly concerns conservation of heating and cooling to reduce the demand for gas and electric production.
So all sorts of green shoots are cropping up in all sorts of places, but among the hardest to track are the ones far off the beaten track, such as homes.
Soy to the world
Kindra Warner, wife of Sgt. Jeffrey Warner on Fort Hood, was pregnant with the couple's second child, now 10 months old, when she came across a magazine article about the toxicity of conventional candles, made from residue in oil barrels. "Burning paraffin releases the same toxins and carcinogens into the air of your home as burning diesel fuel," she said.
So she started making soy candles from a waxy substance produced by the soy plant, a substance already becoming popular. She makes each candle in her kitchen, holding lead-free wicks in place with a strainer from an old coffee pot. She said the substance "not only burns cooler but can burn up to 50 percent longer than paraffin wax. It is nontoxic and biodegradable and is derived from a renewable resource."
Using them first as gifts for friends and family, she began giving them to new families in the on-post housing where she lives. Then friends organized a "holiday candle party" in November, and her business, Your Serenity Garden, was launched.
She now sells candles with various fragrances in Crafters Corner in Copperas Cove and Crafts Galore in Temple, and she is seeking sales agents on her Web site, yourserenitygarden.com.
"My father is a mechanic who started his own business in Arkansas," she said, "and he told me not to expect a profit for two years. Well, I'm already making a profit. I projected $200 a month at this point in my business plan, and I'm making $400."
Advertising her wares as "cruelty-free," meaning they contain no animal fat, she said, "Consumers need to be aware that most of the soy candles sold today are nothing more than a soy blend.
"Soy supports the American farmer, not foreign oil. Buying candles made from it strengthens our country's economy by supporting the local agricultural community. By keeping our money here, there is less possibility of supporting terror across the world."