Starve the trash can; feed the recycling box

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- In the corner of my office cubicle I have a standard trash can and a cardboard box. I place non-recyclable items such as candy wrappers and styrofoam cups in the trash can. In the cardboard box I place paper, plastic, glass and anything else remotely recyclable.

Making the choice to recycle is a matter of personal effort that means taking a few moments to consider what I am getting ready to throw away, and determine if it can be recycled. If it can be recycled, I place it in the cardboard box. For most paper items, the effort is small. I take a little more effort to rinse the plastic bowls or soda bottles.

At the end of the month, or whenever the box is full, I sort out the wood fiber materials from the glass and plastic. I then move them into the appropriate large recycling bins in the office area. As a matter of practice, I've adjusted to starving the trash can and feeding the recycling box.

However, I can't help but observe that if a few people recycle, it does not make much of an impact. I still see a significant amount of recyclable materials in the custodial carts and the dumpsters on base.

I've also realized that recycling is a matter of teamwork. We need to ensure our efforts are multiplied by our teammates in the office area. Talk with facility managers to ensure sufficient large office-area bins are in place. Facility managers should work with the recycling contractor to coordinate pickup schedules. Then, maybe, we could see our recycling rates improve.

For us, it should be a matter of doing the right thing for the environment. However, there is a more definite economical benefit: it can result in lower solid waste disposal costs for the Air Force. For our nation, recycling saves energy, fuel and reduces green-house gases. For example, if we were to achieve an 80 percent recycling rate, it would equate to eliminating the green house-gases generated from about 2,500 automobiles.

The key to our success is using the systems we already have in place to their full extent. If we all pitch in, we can make a difference.