For many years, the US Navy has been buying printer toner cartridges containing almost 100% virgin material when the law requires the use of products with the highest percentage of recycled content. So claims David Mayeske, who worked for the unit responsible for the purchase of military printer products. He reported the ‘illegal’ practices to US Congress. Result: ‘They chose to shoot me, the messenger.’
David Mayeske’s story begins with the large-scale government outsourcing by the US Department of Defense during the past two decades. In 2000 the US Navy, at the request of Congress, entered into the Navy, Marine-Corps Intranet (NMCI) contract, a multi-billion dollar contract to outsource computing infrastructure.
As an employee under the new contract, David Mayeske lost his computer security duties to the contractor and was put on another job: purchasing and deploying print consumables for a high-end printer line.
In 2008, a friend tipped off Mayeske about the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). ‘I learned more about toners containing hazardous toxins and that the government is required to buy products containing the highest percentage of recycled content,’ he tells Recycling International. ‘This requirement excluded therefore the purchase of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products because these products comprised 95% virgin materials. If you bought a compatible toner, it would have at least 70% recycled content while an OEM had only 5-6% recycled content. Thus the OEM produced 95% new waste while the compatible, far less. Clearly, I was shocked to learn that the NMCI contract called for purchase of OEM print consumables and support products.’
Basically, you were doing something illegally?
Mayeske: ‘In fact, yes. This condition in the contract made the Navy’s purchase requirement illegal and in violation of the RCRA Act, which identifies toner as being hazardous to the environment and requires the active purchase of toner products with a very high percentage of recycled content, in order to safeguard the environment from leaking toner toxins.’
What did you do with that knowledge?
‘I began procuring the right kind of products to meet the environmental requirements. To my pleasant surprise, I found the recycled products to be quite satisfactory. They were all warrantied and presented the US taxpayer with a savings of 60-70% on the OEM retail prices. I shopped for and installed primarily the third type of toner on the market, the remanufactured or remans. My conclusion: keep buying recycled products.’
Good point. What happened next?
‘I wanted things to change and decided to fight for my goals: get the contract clauses changed to specify the purchases of recycled content cartridges; convince or force the Navy to get in line by buying remanufactured products; and get the Defense Department to start reporting accurate statistics on their purchases of green toner and print cartridges.’
Anyone listening and supporting?
‘With the Navy work being outsourced, they were not prepared to follow legal guidelines. I reported this fact through my Congressman. He sent a letter to the Navy and they sent back a mea culpa response. But the Navy is not very responsible on environmental matters so, rather than fix the policy, they chose to shoot me, the messenger. Throw him overboard! After 25 years of service, I was taken through hearings and fired within a year.They replaced me with an employee from the NMCI team who wanted to work for the government. However, he did not obey the law by procuring recycled content products.’
Since you started your whistleblowing, has there been any change for the better regarding the use of recycled content in products purchased by the Navy?
‘Things do not look like they have changed much in reference to the numbers being reported publicly by the Navy. The bureaucrats and politicians are playing a new game right now where they take a statistical sample of all the contracts that have green clauses.’
Looking back, was it all worth it?
‘It’s been a painful experience, not least for me personally. The US Navy has hidden the real reason – the whistleblowing – for kicking me out. I was fired for acting in an unsafe manner by standing on a chair. How can you be dismissed for standing on a chair? Overall, my fight has not been fruitful enough. Official government reports claim the Defense Department has a compliance rate of 100%. This cannot be true because the Navy does not report, or at least not accurately, and resists to doing so. If you play the game by the rules outlined in the law, you should create a lot less waste by buying recycled products, that’s for sure. And that’s what we all should be pursuing: a better environment and far less waste. So if you ask me, would you do it again, the answer is ‘YES’, I’d do it again. If I didn’t, no one else would.’
This interview has been published in the January/February 2020 issue of Recycling International.
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