by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Laurie Baker and a couple of her colleagues ripped into dozens of bags of garbage April 22 and each pulled out money – piles of it.
It was part of an ongoing trash audit program by the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron. Ms. Baker and three others were charged with finding out how much recyclable material was in those bags of garbage – cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, said Ms. Baker, Booz Allen Hamilton environmental consultant working with the 21st CES.
“Every one of those boxes being thrown into the trash, it’s money just being thrown away,” she said.
What’s worse, she said, is the recyclable material ends up in the landfill instead of getting reused. It’s her mission to educate Peterson Air Force Base employees about the power of recycling. In the Earth Day trash audit of 854.6 pounds, the team found 45.8 pounds of plastics; 56.6 pounds of white paper; 79.4 pounds of low grade paper; 13.8 pounds of cardboard; and 21.2 pounds of aluminum that could have been recycled.
“I think we are finding more recyclable materials in the trash because we are in a disposable mode,” Ms. Baker said. “Water bottles by far have skyrocketed in their use.”
The findings from the audits are used by CES and building managers to design recycling plans and programs, including adding recycling bins to the parking lots and recycling containers to offices.
“It helps me on who needs additional education on recycling and who needs bins,” said Phil Chase, 21st CES pollution prevention program manager. “After we take all of the samples, we visit facility managers, show them the results and talk about ways to improve recycling.”
Last year, after a trash audit of Building 1, employees there wanted recycling containers in each directorate. Employees agreed to take the containers to a central location in the building and the building manager agreed to take the recyclable material to the base recycling yard, at the corner of Goodfellow Street and Ent Avenue. The recycling yard is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Some buildings have trash picked up twice a day, said Ms. Baker. However, if the amount of trash could be reduced because more items were going into the recycling bins, it could reduce the number of times trash is picked up, thereby saving money.
“Maybe they only need pick up once a day or every other day,” Ms. Baker said. “That reduces the cost to the building. Plus, you can potentially get revenue from all this recyclable material. So, you can start paying for pick up of your refuse with (the funds generated from) your recyclables. That is sort-of the end goal.”
Earth Day, April 22, was a good time to start thinking about recycling programs, Ms. Baker said. This is the fourth year she has completed trash audits in honor of Earth Day, designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the environment. Earth Day was launched in the United States in 1970 and went international in 1990. Other Earth Day activities on Peterson included a poster contest by children at the youth center and an environmental and energy awareness booth at the commissary.
Cindy Litteral, 21st CES fire chief, and Peterson firefighters started an adopt a highway, trash pick-up program years ago, before Earth Day came into vogue. Her crews, and volunteers from across the base, take a day each year to pick up trash by each base gate and beyond the gates into the community, she said. Now, the day is coordinated with Earth Day and it’s a tradition she plans to continue. This year, about 50 firefighters and other volunteers picked up 3,500 pounds of trash, including tires, hub caps and other large items people dump on the side of the road.
“My job is simple, I coordinate and yell a lot,” she said. “We’ll keep this going – I think it should be twice a year where the base shuts down and takes care of the community. It’s a good thing.”