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Greencastle prison's green initiative saves more than $1m

AP Photo/The Star, Danese Kenon
In this photo taken on Dec. 3, from left, Pattin Harris, Donnie Dixon and Justin Myrtle rip up old books for recycling rip up old books for recycling at the Putnamville Correctional Facility in Greencastle. The prison is earning praise from an environmental group for its efforts to recycle and find ways to save energy. The Putnamville Correctional Facility recycles 10 tons a month of cans, bottles, paper, plastic wrappers and other material. It also has a woodchipper that fuels a wood-burning furnace and a windmill that generates enough power for one large building.

GREENCASTLE — An Indiana prison is raking in the green through a recycling and energy-savings program that an environmental group says has positioned the facility as a leader in the country.

The Putnamville Correctional Facility near Greencastle has saved about $1.25 million in heating costs in the two years since it installed a wood chipper that fuels a wood-burning furnace. It is earning about $150,000 a year through a recycling program that also reduces waste-hauling fees, prison spokesman Phil Slavens told The Indianapolis Star.

The efforts, which also include a windmill that generates enough power for one large building and a water conservation system that saves more than 1 million gallons a day, are winning praise from the Hoosier Environmental Council and are drawing attention of other prisons statewide.

"They are really a leader in the country among prisons, or any government facilities for that matter, in their environmental consciousness and commitment to sustainability," said Jesse Kharbanda, director of the nonprofit Hoosier Environmental Council.

Slavens said the idea started by accident but that the prison quickly realized the benefits.

"We said, 'Why can't we do more of this?'"

Putnamville now recycles 10 tons a month of cans, bottles, paper, plastic wrappers and other material. Slavens said the prison will take the program a step further in the spring by growing cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and beans in a garden fertilized with compost it has been mixing for more than 10 years, using manure from 45 horses cared for by inmates. The food will be donated to organizations that feed the homeless and needy.

Mike Callahan, the physical plant director, said a prisoner in each dormitory is in charge of picking up the different-colored recycling collection bins and taking them to the recycling plant.

"We have about 90 percent compliance," Callahan said. "Instead of just throwing a half-filled can of pop into any garbage, I've seen them dump it out in the shower, wash it in the sink and put it in its proper receptacle.

"The offenders are in here for violating society's rules, and yet they have totally bought into it."