Air Force

May 11, 2012

Air Force refocuses pollution, waste efforts

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by Michael Briggs
JB San Antonio-Randolph, Texas
af-pollution

Air Force leaders recently refocused their pollution prevention and waste elimination efforts with a new policy aimed at gaining efficiencies.

A policy memo co-signed April 27 by Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Philip Breedlove and Assistant Secretary for Installations, Environment and Logistics Terry Yonkers comes on the heels of Earth Day and its service-wide pollution prevention, or P2, focus.

“P2 and waste minimization opportunities are excellent ways to conserve resources, protect Air Force people and their environment, reduce logistical and compliance burdens, and streamline processes to become more efficient,” the memo stated.

The heart of the policy is a set of new P2 and waste minimization goals to be accomplished by 2020:

  • Achieve a 20-percent reduction of the 2008-2010 average of recurring hazardous waste;
  • Divert 65 percent, by weight, of non-hazardous solid waste from landfill disposal, excluding construction and demolition debris; and
  • Reduce toxic release inventory releases by 35 percent from a 2006 baseline.

Each goal has interim milestones to reach in 2015 and 2018 to ensure installations are on track to meet the overall 2020 goal.

Installation commanders will reach these new goals by using the Environmental Management System, or EMS, to identify and manage operations that generate pollution and waste, according to the memo.

“Each organization should look at their existing progress in each of these key areas and identify the mission activities that can best be influenced to achieve additional efficiencies,” said Kevin Gabos, the Air Force hazardous material, hazardous waste and pollution prevention subject matter expert at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment. “These are not specifically meant to be ‘installation’ goals, but a target where each installation does what makes sense, ultimately contributing toward overall goals.”

For example, he said an installation may already be diverting more than 65 percent of its non-hazardous solid waste from landfill disposal, but there may still be some organizational processes that result in landfill disposal of material that is capable of being diverted.

One of the overarching tenants of EMS is continuous improvement. Installations can make improvements by following the P2 hierarchy, which is to first substitute materials or reengineer processes to reduce or eliminate environmental impacts, the memo stated. When it’s not possible to achieve reduction at the source, the policy instructs commanders to emphasize reuse and recycling.

“If there are opportunities for improvement, the message is simple: take them,” Gabos said.

A common misconception is the civil engineer community at the base is responsible for the P2 and waste minimization programs. That’s not true, according to Gabos, who said process owners across operations, logistics, maintenance, medical, acquisition and services should “take a hard look” at the environmental aspects and impacts of their mission activities to identify opportunities to eliminate waste and contribute toward Air Force P2 goals.

Some bases have made significant P2 and waste elimination improvements, Gabos said.

“I was recently asked by representatives of McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas about a piece of equipment for refueling vehicles that reduced the monthly inspection process from 10 minutes to less than 30 seconds,” he said. “The equipment not only has the potential to save manpower resources at virtually every Air Force base, but it also eliminates the need for waste drip pads and associated disposal quantity and cost. It’s exactly this type of process ownership and smart investment that will enable each commander and installation to eliminate waste and contribute to P2 goals.”

At another base, he said a relatively small amount of medical pharmaceutical waste was putting the installation’s status as a conditionally exempt, small quantity generator at risk. A review of procurement practices identified opportunities to reduce the excess procurement and the resulting waste.

“While making a small contribution toward the hazardous waste reduction goal, this action made significant progress to reducing a larger regulatory burden across the entire installation,” Gabos said.




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