AF celebrates Earth Day by focusing on mission today, tomorrow

  • Published
  • By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Air Force leaders are reminding Airmen to keep the mission in mind as the Air Force observes the 45th annual Earth Day April 22.

The service has encouraged Airmen around the globe to focus on recycling efforts this year, in line with its 2015 theme, “Conserve Today – Secure Tomorrow.”

“Air Force bases and installations depend as much on reliable environmental infrastructure -- things like solid ground to build our runways on, healthy watersheds to keep our drinking water clean, intact forests to clean our air--as they depend on manmade infrastructure, like buildings and hangars," said Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy. "For Earth Day 2015, we're reinvigorating the concept of 'recycling'. Airmen have a history of seeing solutions where others see problems, and when we look at garbage, we don't see 'trash', we see raw materials that need a new home, whether that's tin and aluminum cans that could be put rebuilt into the new products, or paper packaging that could reduce the number of trees that need to be cut.”

The Defense Department recognized the Air Force’s ingenuity in finding environmental solutions April 21, by awarding Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, with the 2015 Environmental Award for Environmental Quality, Industrial Installation. The award recognizes the efforts of industrial installations to ensure mission accomplishment and protection of human health in the areas of environmental planning, waste management, and compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Among the accomplishments at Robins was the base’s Qualified Recycling Program, which recycled more than 2,200 tons of recyclables and diverted 87.2 percent of its construction and demolition solid waste from the landfill in fiscal year 2014. Robins also generated over $460,000 in total revenue from the resale of recycled materials.

In addition to Robins AFB’s exceptional performance, Air Force bases across the world are finding new ways to utilize materials that would otherwise be considered waste.

"We need to be environmental stewards, and recycling is an easy way to make a positive contribution," said Alfredo Garza, the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron recycling manager at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. "Today, Barksdale personnel recycle more than 35 different types of items from paper and cardboard to materials such as concrete, asphalt, scrap metal, batteries, electronics, tires and used oil."

At Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the recycling program has seen an increase in volume from 450,000 pounds annually 14 years ago to approximately 1.2 million pounds per quarter today, said Jesse Salinas, the Qualified Recycling Program manager. Recycling efforts at Barksdale, Lackland and other Air Force installations provide savings to fuel the force across the globe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1 ton of recycled mixed office paper saves 380 gallons of oil. Recycling one aluminum can save enough electricity to run a TV for three hours, or longer if it’s an LCD or LED model.

The DOD’s strategic sustainability performance plan calls upon all branches of service to divert 55 percent of non-hazardous solid waste and 100 percent of electronics waste. Although the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services manages disposal of Air Force-owned electronic equipment, Air Force leaders are encouraging Airmen to take action to conserve and recycle at home. The U.S. Postal Service’s BlueEarth, a federal recycling program, provides individuals a safe and free method to dispose of personally owned electronic equipment.

"The message is simple," said Kevin Gabos, a Air Force pollution prevention subject matter expert at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. "If there are opportunities to reduce waste, take them."

In addition to recycling efforts, bases will each host various events bringing Earth Day to Airmen’s attention. Kadena Air Base, Japan, hosted an art competition for school children on base as well as a planned video contest and on-base jungle cleanup. Robins AFB will hold a photography competition highlighting interaction with local flora and fauna on base.

“We’ve made great progress across the Air Force in the past several years, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Ballentine said. “Throwing a can into the recycling bin instead of the trash isn’t just about taking care of the Earth, it’s about sustaining ‘fly, fight and win’ for the years to come.”

You can learn more about Air Force Earth Day efforts by visiting the Air Force Civil Engineer Center website, or the Air Force Blue Acts of Green Facebook page.