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Air Force recommits to green initiatives during pollution prevention week

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Schneider
  • Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment Public Affairs
One of the best ways to protect the Earth is to not pollute in the first place, a realization that became official American policy in 1990 with the passing of the Federal Pollution Prevention Act.

This week, the Air Force joins the rest of the nation in acknowledging a concerted effort to reduce contamination of air, soil and water by eliminating pollution at its source.

Celebrated during the third full week in September, Pollution Prevention Week presents an annual opportunity for individuals, businesses and government to highlight past successes, expand current initiatives and commit to new ways to protect the environment.

When many people think of pollution prevention, they think of recycling, said Nancy Carper, an integrated solid waste management specialist at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment.

Installation recycling programs across the force have been successful at reducing the number of items entering landfills, while also generating revenue for the base.

Thule Air Base, Greenland, found that recycling could be very profitable. The base received a check for more than $1 million for successfully recycling a 15,000-ton scrap metal pile that had accumulated over a 15-year period there.

Recycling is only one piece of the puzzle in preventing pollution, said Carper, who is also program manager for Win the War Against Waste, an outreach campaign developed to support the Air Force's worldwide environmental objectives for solid waste management.

"Recycling is pollution prevention, absolutely, but we tend to focus on recycling when there's much more involved in winning the war against waste," Carper said. It also includes reuse of materials, composting and source reduction - reduce, recycle, reuse."

Reuse of materials in military construction is one area in which Air Force officials strive to reduce waste.

From construction to deconstruction, Airmen at several Air Force installations found unique ways to reduce, reuse and recycle this year.

AFCEE officials recently managed the demolition of an aging commissary at Peterson AFB, Colo. More than 550 tons of steel were diverted from landfills and repurposed, while the concrete slab was reused as backfill.

"In an effort to recycle as much building material as possible, we broke up and crushed the building's foundation concrete slabs and used the material for backfill," said Russell Henderer, the AFCEE project manager. "The backfill material was a green solution for providing a stable surface for future projects on the site."

Officials at Fairchild AFB, Wash., used a similar approach when constructing a new $43 million runway. Contractors crushed more than 60,000 tons of concrete and 20,000 tons of asphalt from the old runway and repurposed it. Most of the material was reused on base and the rest was donated to the community.

Air Force construction officials, with their emphasis on U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design goals, aim to reduce environmental pollution through such goals as energy efficiency, use of recycling, and reduction in air and water pollution.

The fitness center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., a LEED-platinum facility, incorporates many energy-saving features. Alternative energy sources, high-efficiency cooling and heating systems, recycling of construction demolition materials, energy-efficient roofing and permeable parking lot paving are a few of the features the building boast. These features are projected to generate 40 percent less in typical annual energy and water consumption.

The Base Realignment and Closure/National Capital Region Relocation Administrative Facility at Joint Base Andrews, Md., also includes innovations aimed at reducing environmental impact. A vegetative roof, water-efficient landscaping, use of recycled content and construction waste recycling are a few of its 'green' features.

The vegetative roof provides many environmental benefits including reduced storm water runoff, reduced pollution of natural waterways and decreased rooftop temperatures, said Micah Shuler, the AFCEE project manager.

Officials at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., took an additional step in reducing energy consumption and pollution by announcing an initiative to switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles. Air Force officials there unveiled a plan Aug. 31, to establish the base as the first federal facility to replace 100 percent of its general purpose fleet with plug-in electric vehicles. The vehicles could be in place as soon as January 2012, officials said.

In line with its focus on energy efficiency, the Air Force earned almost half of the U.S. Department of Energy Federal Energy Management Program's 2011 Federal Energy and Water Management Awards for Department of Defense entities, capturing four team and three individual awards this year.

While acknowledging several accomplishments across the force during pollution prevention week, there is always more to be done, said Kevin Gabos, the AFCEE subject matter expert for pollution prevention, hazardous waste and hazardous materials.

Air Force pollution prevention efforts historically focused primarily at the installation level, but the intent is for pollution prevention to be more holistic in nature.

"Our mission now is to capture and analyze pollution prevention data so we can create a unified, strategic, long-term approach," Gabos said. "We are focusing on analyzing data behind current Air Force hazardous materials usage, waste generation and toxic release inventory so we can identify the right technological investments and comprehensive solutions to apply to pollution prevention across the service."

It's important that every person realizes the importance of his or her individual role in protecting the environment, Carper said.

"Reduce, recycle, reuse," Carper added. "To win the war against waste, we need to continue to educate the members of our Air Force on how they can contribute to the fight and show them that their efforts, large or small, can make a difference."