LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — As part of a new recycling initiative, Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) diverted nearly five tons of plastic from a local landfill last month, sending it instead to the Los Alamos County Eco Station for reuse and saving an estimated $16,000 in taxpayer dollars.

N3B cleans up hazardous and radiological waste generated at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) during the Manhattan Project and Cold War eras for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office.

The plastic came from about 80 tanks that stored purge water and drilling fluids from groundwater monitoring wells that assist N3B in monitoring area groundwater.

The process of purging, or removing water from wells, occurs immediately before sampling and ensures samples represent water quality in the aquifer, rather than stagnant water that may have sat inside the well.

Until recently, plastic storage tanks that had reached their 10-year shelf life, or those with weak spots at risk of breaching, had gone as industrial waste to the landfill in Rio Rancho, about 90 miles away.

“We thought, ‘This isn’t right, it’s plastic, we should be able to recycle it,’” said Zoe Duran, N3B’s groundwater monitoring project manager. “In shipping to the Los Alamos Eco Station, we’re saving taxpayer money in both transport and disposal costs.”

Before disposition at the Eco Station, N3B crews reviewed the analytical profiles of water stored in each tank and ensured they met acceptance criteria. They also cut the tanks into smaller pieces to meet processing plant requirements.

The bottom portion of the tanks, where sediment typically collects, will be characterized to determine the best pathway — recycling at the Eco Station or shipment to a waste facility.

N3B has 128 additional plastic tanks flagged for the recycling Eco Station. In the future, tanks that expire or show early signs of wear and tear will also be recycled.

The type of plastic being reprocessed — a high-density polyethylene — is commonly used in making milk containers and shampoo bottles, among other products.

“This initiative really is a no-brainer,” Duran said. “Not only does it save money, it’s simply the right thing to do. Our job at N3B is to clean up the environment. It’s important to complete that work as sustainably as possible.”

recycling initiative

N3B crews cut up plastic storage tanks — once used in support of groundwater monitoring activities and since expired — for disposal at the Los Alamos Eco Station. N3B’s new recycling initiative diverts massive amounts of recyclables from the regional landfill.