Sharks take a bite out of pollution by recycling

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- When I was teaching last year, I noticed a large amount of plastic bottles, cans, and glass containers thrown away. The amount of recyclables going into the garbage astonished me. This went against everything I had been taught over the last 20 years. I took my first step and brought in my own recycling container and was surprised to find it was overflowing in just a week. Weekly, I would take the items to the base recycling center. I thought if my room was producing that much how much more could we collect squadron wide? An idea was born.

I put together a small team interested in recycling. We were able to share ideas. A few months later, and after we worked out the details and funding, we ordered individual blue recycling bins for all of the classrooms and offices for 316th Training Squadron. Once the containers arrived, we placed them around the squadron. There are currently more than 140 containers in use today! After several recommendations, we voted to call the program SARGE: Sharks Attacking Recyclable Garbage Everyday.

Nearly every week since last June, a team of two to six volunteers has taken two large carts around the squadron, collecting and sorting recyclables. By the end of 2006, we had collected more than 3,000 pounds of recyclables. The majority of the items have been aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass. Working in a secure environment posed some challenges, but after working with the appropriate security offices, the details were worked out. To eliminate any potential risks, we don't collect office paper, newspapers, or magazines from inside the secure facilities.

Unfortunately, as of Oct. 1, 2006, the recycling center on base stopped taking aluminum, glass, and plastics. This presented some unique challenges to our program since we had been taking everything to the base center. We knew we had to continue, so we brainstormed again; now we use our privately owned vehicles to take the items off-base to the San Angelo Friends of the Environment, a non-profit recycling center here in San Angelo.

Also, we now sort and deposit aluminum separately. We used some of the money to support our deployed troops during the past holiday season; the rest is being saved for "Operation Warmheart," a First Sergeant Council program supporting our own folks at Goodfellow. Since we started cashing in our cans, we've collected more than $50 for these efforts.

As of today, we've collected almost two tons of recyclables - items that would otherwise needlessly add to our landfills. If you've participated by merely tossing a bottle in a blue recycling bin (after removing the cap of course), you may have supplied road and construction materials or that 20 ounce bottle in your hand now!
If you're interested in starting a squadron recycling program, please contact me. We have many "lessons learned" we can share. We have adapted and now feel that we have an efficient system in place with very little cost to our squadron and personnel. I would like to get more squadrons involved and turn this into a base wide effort. If you're interested, please send me an email at kelly.bales@goodfellow.af.mil or call 654-3544.

For more information about the San Angelo Friends of the Environment recycling center hours or how to volunteer, please call 659-0722.