The Commerce Department's Office of Minority Business Enterprise yesterday approved a $350,000 grant to a black veterans' group to finance a trash recycling program in the District of Columbia, which the veterans say they hope will generate as much as $7 million in sales next year.

The three-year program is seen by OMBE and the veterans' group, the National Black Veterans Organization, as a way to help employ hard-core unemployed veterans, promote minority business and promote recycling as an energy conservation measure.

Richard N. Hamilton, executive director of NBYO, said the veterans group has negotiated and soon will sign contracts with the Smithsonian Institution and the Pentagon to collect and recycle bond paper, computer printouts and aluminum.

"I anticipate recycling for the entire federal government," Hamilton said.

The veterans' organization has run a recycling program in Washington for two months, but Hamilton said lack of funds has restricted the enterprises to recycling 500 pounds a day by hand at 629 F. St. NW. NBVO plans to operate a plant in Northeast or Northwest Washington that will be capable of handling 2,000 pounds daily.

In addition to the OMBE grant, Hamilton said NBVO has received $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor to hire the hard-core unemployed and a $550,000 Comprehensive Employment Training Act grant from the D.C. government. All of the grants are for one year, though Hamilton said the group has a commitment for two more years of financing from OMBE.

The NBVO recycling plan currently employs 70 veterans in Washington, and Hamilton said 35 more should be added later in the year. "This (grant) should provide hundreds of jobs in the area," he said.

There is similar NBVO program in Los Angeles, but the Washington operation will act as a pilot program for OMBE, which wants to expand to other cities during the three-year period, according to Commerce officials.

Hamilton said Washington was chosen for the pilot program because the attitude toward recycling was good.

"Industry had an interest in it, government had an interest in it, and the leadership was here," Hamilton said. "Recycling is 60 per cent attitude and there's good recycling attitude here."

Several veterans working at the Washington plant said they were pleased with the program because of the jobs it made available, but said the trash pickup operations needed better organization.

"Right now there's a lot of confusion," said Chris Cook, 27, of 1320 I St. NE, a disabled Vietnam veteran who said he was out of a job five years. "But things are ironing their way out."