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August 2007

United States soldiers in Kuwait recycle for the future

Soldiers sort through recyclable bottles before discarding them in a specially marked recycling container.

During the summer months, approximately 800,000 bottles of water are supplied to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. While that quenches the thirst of the military and civilian personnel at this desert installation, it also means a lot of solid waste. What happens to those bottles? They end up in a Kuwaiti landfill.

In late June, Col. Kenneth Beard, Commander for Zone 6, 113th Field Artillery, suggested to members of Combat Support Associates, Ltd., Environmental Health and Safety Directorate, Pollution Prevention Branch, the designated manager of the Quality Recycling Program for the Area Support Group-Kuwait area of responsibility, to use Zone 6 as a partner to kick off a six-month trial plastic water bottle recycling pilot-program on Camp Arifjan.

The project is designed to peak interest in recycling, said Clara Lewis, a pollution prevention environmental engineer with ASG-Kuwait. She said the trial program was set up at Camp Arifjan to work out the logistical kinks in the system before applying the program at the other bases in Kuwait.

Col. John Alexander, ASG-Kuwait commander, approved the six-month trial as a good-faith obligation to clean up the areas around Camp Arifjan.

“When he signs off on policy here, he has made a mandate for all service personnel, anyone in his area of responsibility, to recycle and minimize waste,” Lewis said.

When ASG-Kuwait announced the recycling program, phone numbers were provided for people to participate. Lewis said the response was overwhelming.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook,” Lewis said. “Units and sections, both military and civilian, were calling requesting to participate. We even got people that kept us on the line that wanted to do something individually.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Reatha Candler, Forward Deployed Preventive Medical Unit South, was one of those individuals. Candler said she was familiar with recycling and it was something she was interested in from the start. The petty officer explained to Lewis and her staff that she had success with recycling while in Preventive Medicine Treatment School in San Diego, California. She separated recyclables from the trash and made money off of the recycled material. Candler said she once made over $300 for her PMT class with recycling. The petty officer told Lewis that she’d do anything to help out with the recycling project.

Once the phone call was made, Candler’s recycling plan was put into motion.

“I called them up and Vick Loan answered my call and brought out two containers,” Candler said.

So far, the program has met with success. The orange collection bins are visible throughout Zone 6 and Lewis said the leadership has taken to the idea of cleaning up through recycling.

“We have this strong partner in the Zone 6 command cell with Col. Beard and Chief (Harold) Layton,” Lewis said. “With their leadership, they are also bringing another 5,000 or so people under the umbrella to make sure that at least they know from the top down that we are going to recycle.”

Lewis said the program has many benefits - the first being a clean environment. When the bottles stay in the trash, they are taken directly to a Kuwaiti landfill.

This will have a negative effect in that the United States military could be labeled as a huge contributor of non-degradable plastics. This could add up in the long run because the Army will have to pay to have the area cleaned up once the military decides to leave Kuwait. The program would ensure that the plastic bottles are taken out of the main trash stream.

While the orange bins are currently only on Arifjan, Lewis offered some suggestions for those waiting for the bins to be made available in the other camps.

“To get staff in the mode of recycling, just set up a box or a trash can and label it plastic water bottles so when (the bins) do come, they’re already taking them out of main waste stream and setting them aside,” Lewis said. “Even if you don’t have a bin, we’ll come and pick those up.”