News: Making a difference: one plastic bottle at a time
Story by Staff Sgt. Adam Keith
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - It gets hot in Kuwait. I know, a bold statement, like saying that it snows in Alaska, it gets windy in Chicago and it rains occasionally in Seattle.
But there are many consequences aside from sweaty laundry and constantly smelling like sunscreen that arise from having a military base in the Arabian Desert. One of these is an abundance of water bottles. Millions of them.
To ensure proper hydration, a key to surviving this harsh climate, the water bottles are distributed throughout Camp Arifjan, readily available to quench the thirst of the servicemembers and civilians who work and live here.
But once the water has been consumed, what happens to the millions of empty bottles?
As Earth Day approaches, aside from the many blue recycling bins located around the camp, some are unaware of the time and effort that goes into making sure these empty bottles are properly collected, sorted and recycled through the Qualified Recycling Program.
Freddy Jones, an environmental safety and health engineer for the recycling program here, said the program has been in effect on Camp Arifjan since February 2011 and has steadily increased the percentage of recyclables that come through the recycling facility located on base.
“We recorded approximately 14 percent capture rate in April 2012 on plastic bottles, which is easy to quantify because we can take the number purchased and subtract the number that comes through the center here,” said Jones. “This past October I did an analysis on the numbers and we had actually captured, out of the 36 million purchased bottles, 27 million of them were recycled. That equates to 78 percent. This year we are hoping to push it up another 10 percent.“
Jones said the expected capture rate for these programs Department of Defense wide is 50 percent by 2015.
“In my opinion we should be getting 100 percent because everyone should want to participate,” he said. “It is also a mandatory program.”
Mandatory. There are a lot of things that are mandatory in the military, like formations and physical fitness tests, and since I joined the Army, I’ve been involved in more than one “mandatory fun” event, of which the “funness” may have been debatable.
These events, unloved as some of them may be, are still a part of military life, and we do them not just because they are mandatory and we have too, but because they have been deemed necessary by our leaders and they serve an important purpose.
The Qualified Recycling Program, enacted DOD wide by executive order, is a mandatory program that everyone should not only participate in but one that should be enthusiastically supported. Throughout the Army, the program redirects millions of tons of waste away from landfills and incinerators and helps reduce deforestation, resource consumption and may positively impact greenhouse gas emissions globally.
And the benefits of the program go beyond having a positive impact on the environment.
“It also provides an avenue for returning funds back to the base or the host area of operations,” said Jones. “The funds that we collect here are used to support the recycling program, special environmental projects and the moral, welfare, and recreation program.”
With the monetary and environmental benefits of this program apparent, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would not want to be a part of it.
For some it may come down to walking a few extra feet or holding on to their empty bottle until they see a proper recycling bin. To others it may not seem worth the effort. After all, as we established earlier, it does get hot in Kuwait. Is it really worth it to spend a few extra minutes in the oppressing sun looking for a recycling bin for one empty bottle?
Obviously, the answer is yes. Not just because of the benefits or because the program is mandatory or because it would make Captain Planet proud, but because from day one in the military we are instilled with the value of integrity, taking the hard right over the easy wrong, doing what is right even when there is no one looking.
Plus, with over 400 blue recycling bins on this camp alone, there is always a place to recycle nearby.
Jones said the recycling center also takes flattened cardboard, wooden pallets and office supplies, which are inventoried and then issued back out to units for free.
“Free issue depends on the units, contractors and people out there to turn in excess paper, office supplies and other products,” he said. “That’s all brought down from units that are leaving or units that are getting here and realizing that they brought stuff that they didn't need. Instead of tossing this into a dumpster, bring it down here. We will physically go through every bit of it.”
Jones said that last year alone the recycling center redistributed 168 thousand items back out to units and his team is always happy to answer questions about materials to make it easier for those looking to properly dispose of items.
Whether a servicemember or civilian, deployed or at home, recycling is not only the right thing to do to save money and resources, it’s the right thing to do for the environment. One thing we all have in common is that we are inhabitants of the only planet that we know of that is capable of sustaining human life, and the future of that planet is everyone’s responsibility.
The recycling center on Camp Arifjan can be reached at 6930-5712 and is located in zone 7, building T-823.