US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

Committing to Recycling Can be Sustainable

Hazardous Waste Manager, Kirtland Air Force Base
Published Dec. 1, 2012

Did you know that America Recycles Day was November 15? It is great that there is a day designated to focus on recycling, but recycling needs to be part of our lives every day, as well as taking steps to live more sustainably.

I often wonder if we waste water or energy because we can afford to or because (at work) we know the government is paying? For instance, do you ever think, “It’s not causing me financial hardship, so what’s the big deal?”

I’ve heard more than once that ‘Americans are the most wasteful society on earth,’ but how many of you think, ‘So what?’ If the majority of us can afford to use and discard resources, whether it is water, energy, food or other commodities, what or who have we harmed? In fact, you may justify your actions by thinking those use-and-dispose habits create jobs and support entire industries.

The truth is there are simple and basic things we can do as a society and individuals that will help protect the environment and preserve many of the resources we take for granted, for future generations. For example, clean drinking water is a limited resource. Most of the modern world already has to filter and treat water pulled from wells and streams to counter the effects of man-made pollution. Every step we take on a personal level to conserve water and keep it clean will help, like fixing a leaky faucet, being more frugal about our daily water usage, or by appropriately handling and disposing of our hazardous materials and wastes.

Another good example is electricity usage; by changing our personal and workplace habits, such as turning off lights when not in use and cutting power to unused appliances and electrical equipment, we will help conserve energy. In fact, each of us who set a good example for our family, friends, co-workers and subordinates makes a positive impact on overall energy consumption for years to come.

And, back to recycling; local waste removal contracts are often written so that our recyclables are disposed of for free, except for basic transportation and handling costs. Meanwhile, all the waste material we don’t recycle costs us extra “disposal” fees. Each of us can help reduce the costs of solid waste disposal by separating and recycling more of our waste paper, cardboard, plastics, metals, glass and biodegradable wastes.

Yes, government agencies, manufacturers and builders are starting to change construction standards and vehicle standards for more economical operations, as well as setting policies to recycle and conserve. However, each of us can make a difference too. Only by raising individual awareness and challenging ourselves and others to make a difference will we “close the loop” by preventing unnecessary waste and conserving precious resources. If you aren’t already, and if you didn’t start on Nov. 15, then start now.