An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Organization : Article Display
NEWS | March 28, 2023

Paint recycling programs reduce waste, save money, increase efficiency

By Mr. Nicolo Manzo and Mr. Justin Kucharski

Tobyhanna Army Depot (TYAD) is leading efforts across the enterprise to reduce waste, increase efficiency and safety and generate cost savings through reuse and recycling initiatives.

Two recycling and reuse pilot programs have recently taken flight in the C4ISR System Paint Branch – the implementation of paint thinner recycling and mineral spirits reuse processes.

General Equipment Mechanic Leader Anthony Matsell had recently attended MegaRust, which is a conference held annually that provides a consolidated focus on corrosion issues facing the United States Navy, where he learned of a program that would allow TYAD to reuse paint thinner.

Matsell went about acquiring a demonstration unit so that tests may be done at TYAD to see how efficient the process is. Matsell said that it became quickly apparent that it would save the team on not only time and money, but it also provided them with a better product.

“Now we are always using clean thinner to clean equipment, which will ensure it will operate efficiently,” said Matsell. “It’s a big improvement for a lot of reasons.”

This pilot process requires depot artisans to collect the dirty thinner that is used to clean equipment and then dump it in the recycling machine, which holds five gallons of fluid. Once the machine is sealed, it removes all the dirty particles in the fluid, leaving a solid waste and the recycled thinner. According to Matsell, the team is able to recoup nearly 80% of the product once the process is complete.

Prior to the acquisition of the demonstration unit, an external company would come to TYAD weekly to collect, recycle and return the thinner to the team. Purchasing a permanent unit would allow the process to be entirely at the worksite, saving the team time and money while also allowing them to process workloads more quickly.

“The more workload we get means the more thinner we’re using, so we’re hoping to bring this whole process in house so we have that thinner constantly,” said Chief of the System Paint Branch Jonathan Grebb. “If we are cleaning our own stuff, we always know that we have it on hand so we can continue our operations efficiently and we’re not relying on somebody else.”

Simply put, when the team uses clean thinner, they do not to have to clean as hard and as many times so time isn’t wasted trying to keep equipment clean. Matsell said this, coupled with supply chain shortages, makes pursuing the opportunity a no-brainer.

The other green initiative the System Paint Branch is championing is a mineral spirits reuse program.

Mineral spirits are a specific kind of paint thinner and cleaner. According to System Paint Branch painting worker Patrick Hart, the mineral spirits are used to clean reusable plastic pieces which mask the underside of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) during the painting process.

This new reuse process involves collecting the mineral spirits in a steel basin and storing it in a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) drum with a resealable lid for reuse, which is all located in the same area.

The idea arose out of a perceived inefficiency. What has come to fruition is a process that reduces waste, saves time and money and increases efficiency and employee morale.

Hart says six months ago, he was buying approximately 30 gallons of mineral spirits per week because of the high amount of workload. Prior to this reuse initiative, two gallons were used to clean the HMMWVs and then were dumped into the waste. Hart and fellow members of the System Paint Branch determined that someone can “probably use two gallons four different times minimum, so you get four different uses, and instead of using eight gallons, you’re using two gallons.”

So, a simple question was raised – ‘could the thinner be reused?’.

“We had a big meeting with environmental, safety, everybody came down, and they determined that we could reuse the thinner,” said Hart.

Once given the green light, the first thing needed to make the idea a reality was the creation of a welded and sealed steel basin.

The material composition helped to ensure it would not rust because of the mineral spirits collection process.

Once collected in the basin, the mineral spirits are transferred to the HAZMAT drum via a siphon pump. The pump enables personnel to not have to lift or pour anything, thus greatly reducing the possibility of a spill.

Hart says everything being located on the same tray is working wonders for efficiency and allows employees flexibility in how they do their work.

“The key on this one is everything is right there for the person. If you’re told to go clean the undercoat parts, you don’t have to run around and find the mineral spirits, run around and find the bin or run around and find gloves and a face shield. It’s all in one spot. So now, instead of an hour and a half before you get started, it’s 15 minutes,” says Hart, who added that the task is now easier for employees and provides a better ergonomic situation.

Branch personnel are already seeing the benefits of reusing and conserving the mineral spirits.

To provide a practical example, Hart says two HMMWVs recently came in, and instead of needing to use four new gallons of mineral spirits, the same two gallons from two weeks ago were used.

Much like the thinner recycling process, the conservation of mineral spirits ensures that operations won’t be slowed due to supply chain issues felt in several industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hart says these processes are helping to avoid six-week to six-month lay times for HAZMAT supplies and equipment necessary for the branch to achieve peak performance.

The new processes have also positively impacted both the physical and workplace environment at Tobyhanna.

Environmental Branch Chief Paula Mesaris says projects like these directly align with TYAD’s environmental goals.

“One of our Environmental Targets and Objectives for this year is reducing the amount of waste generated at TYAD. Recycling aids in achieving this mission, cuts down on waste and reduces our carbon footprint.”

Grebb, Hart and Matsell all agree that these projects are big environmental pluses which drastically reduce the amount of waste the branch’s processes produce.

Grebb says the production floor has enjoyed a morale boost as a result of the new processes as well.

Grebb says he is proud of his team’s efforts toward constant improvement. The drive to improve processes results in higher morale and Grebb wants to foster that culture.

“I’m trying to listen to them because that builds their morale, and they want to keep going with ideas and bettering the shop. Their hearts are into it.”

Reuse and recycling efforts in the C4ISR System Paint Branch, and across the enterprise, directly align with Tobyhanna’s long-range strategic plan, TOBY2035, and specifically the Shape the Future and C5ISR Readiness lines of effort. All four focus areas of the plan are: Invest in Our People, C5ISR Readiness, Shape the Future and Strategic Communications. TOBY2035 aims to posture the depot for success in the coming years as the Department of Defense's premier worldwide C5ISR readiness provider.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is a recognized leader in providing world-class logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems across the Department of Defense. Tobyhanna’s Corporate Philosophy, dedicated work force and electronics expertise ensure the depot is the Joint C5ISR provider of choice for all branches of the Armed Forces and industry partners.

Tobyhanna’s unparalleled capabilities include full-spectrum logistics support for sustainment, overhaul and repair, fabrication and manufacturing, engineering design and development, systems integration, post production software support, technology insertion, modification, foreign military sales and global field support to our joint warfighters.

About 3,100 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the command’s mission is to empower the Soldier with winning C5ISR capabilities.