An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Air Force wages war against waste

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Schneider
  • Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment Public Affairs
On Nov. 15, the Air Force joined the rest of the nation in observing America Recycles Day, a nationally recognized initiative dedicated to encouraging people to recycle more at home, at work and on the go.

Successful recycling and solid waste diversion efforts across the Air Force through the past year have underscored the Air Force's commitment to environmental stewardship, not just on this date, but all 365 days of the year, officials said.

Any action that helps divert waste from landfills supports the Department of Defense strategic sustainability performance plan goal of diverting 50 percent of non-hazardous solid waste and 60 percent of construction and demolition waste by 2015 and beyond, officials added. Finding ways to reuse and recycle during construction and demolition projects not only protects the environment from several tons of waste, but also can lead to big savings.

For example, when hailstorms damaged the roofs on several homes in the Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., area, engineers there found an innovative way to keep the shingles out of the local landfill. The shingles, ground by a contractor hired for the project, were added to recycled concrete and used to repave a parking lot. The existing parking lot was milled up, with 30 percent of the millings mixed with recycled concrete, to provide a foundation for the pavement, and the remainder was transferred to the recycle yard at Peterson AFB to be used for other projects on base.

Savings gained by reusing materials add up, said Fred Brooks, a 21st Civil Engineer Squadron civil engineer at Peterson AFB.

"Big picture, it's an exponential savings," Brooks said.

Similarly, a military family housing demolition effort at Shaw AFB, S.C., led to the recycling and repurposing of several tons of material. Completed in September, more than 80 percent of the 44,212 tons of material removed was recycled, including 33,901 tons of concrete, 95 tons of metal and 2,250 tons of asphalt. In addition to large-scale recycling, the project led to the repurposing of playground equipment, gazebos, a bus stop and street lamps.

Recycling and repurposing efforts such as these are becoming the norm across the force, said Scott Nickerson, a capital investment execution branch chief at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment.

"In the past, waste material produced from the demolition of structures was land-filled, in part because construction material was destroyed during the process and unable to be repurposed," Nickerson said. "Deconstruction involves a lot of planning and coordination up front to properly survey the structure, noting any hazardous or toxic material, and identifying material that can be recycled or reused."

Restoration officials at Kirtland AFB, N.M., found opportunities to recycle as part of their munitions cleanup program. Several tons of used munitions were collected and recycled, returning hundreds of acres to mission use.

"Removing munitions and munitions debris is its own reward -- we're cleaning up these areas for future generations and knowing that we're working to make an area safer," said Scott Clark, the Kirtland Military Munitions Response Program manager. "But it's even sweeter when we're able to turn those munitions into recyclable metal. I can say with confidence that the Air Force is implementing the military munitions response program in a smart and thoughtful manner, and it's something we should all be proud of."

These and other installations have undertaken innovative steps to help the Air Force win the war against waste, a mission in which each individual's efforts, large or small, makes a difference, said Nancy Carper, an integrated solid waste specialist at AFCEE.

At Peterson AFB, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service recently introduced a new recycling kiosk at the base shopette. The computerized kiosk recycles empty drink cans and plastic bottles into points Airmen can redeem for select merchandise, discounts or donations to charity. Other installations are using the same concept.

Some installations, such as Kadena Air Base, Japan, are giving away items that promote reuse. As part of Earth Week 2011, Kadena gave away 10,000 reusable tote bags at the commissary and base exchange to help reduce dependence on plastic bags. The bags were purchased with revenue generated from the sale of recyclables on base.

Similarly, to encourage a "reduce, reuse, recycle" mindset early on in area youth, solid waste management staff at Travis AFB, Calif., reached out to three elementary schools and allowed them to display their artistic talents by illustrating paper grocery bags to demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. The bags were used at the base commissary on Earth Day in promotion of recycling and other environmentally friendly practices.

While installation recycling centers are saving money and generating funds through recycling, there is always room for improvement, officials said. Little Rock AFB, Ark., alone saved more than $625,000 and generated $270,000 more over the course of one year through recycling efforts there, but officials there said they believe there is potential for even higher savings and revenue generation.

"For aluminum cans alone, weighing one half ounce (30 cans equal 1 pound), we are only earning around $5,310 each year," said Lynn Shaw, the 19th Civil Engineer Squadron recycling manager at Little Rock AFB. "According to the Little Rock AFB fact sheet, we could be making much more. With the base population at more than 7,000 active-duty military and civilian members, and about 5,500 family members, assuming that only half of the total population (6,250 people) drinks soda and that each person recycles one can per day, if the conservative numbers were 50 cents per pound, the base could earn $25,000 per year. There is lots of room for growth."

To help promote personal involvement and stress the importance of solid waste management activities across all installations, AFCEE recently released the third edition of the Air Force's "Win the War Against Waste" toolkit, an outreach campaign developed to support the service's worldwide environmental objectives for solid waste management.

Getting the word out on the importance of waste reduction is key, said Carper, who manages the campaign.

"Reduce, recycle, reuse; to win the war against waste, we need to continue to educate our Air Force on how they can contribute to the fight and show them that their efforts, large or small, can make a difference," Carper said. "The toolkit is one way we try to do that."

Additional information on the campaign and the toolkit are available on AFCEE's website at

Carper also encouraged people to make a personal pledge to learn more about recycling in their communities and to take action to reduce their personal waste by taking the America Recycles Day pledge at  

By recognizing successes and opportunities for improvement, the Air Force underscores its commitment to reducing, reusing, recycling and 'rethinking' how it looks at solid waste management across the force to further posture itself as an innovator in efficiency, fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship, Carper said.