By Staff Sgt. Kelly S Carlton (Leonard Wood)October 29, 2015
With all of the news about pollution, it's hard for me to believe people still litter -- especially on military installations.
We are held to a higher standard -- right? NCOs lead the way -- right? One team, one fight -- right? Service members and Department of Defense civilians live by the Army Values -- right?
Littering happens on Fort Leonard Wood.
Every day I see bottles, cans, fast food bags and other garbage on the roadside.
Why, or even more importantly, how can someone just toss trash out of his or her vehicle, or just drop it on the ground without a care? It is beyond me.
The effects on our environment and wildlife are devastating, according to several online sources that document annual waste totals and decomposition rates of different common materials.
Here is a combined summary for your situational awareness:
Plastic items can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.
Those plastic grocery bags we stash inside of more plastic bags can take 10 to 20 years to decompose, and plastic bottles take 450 years.
Americans alone toss out as many as 33 billion plastic bottles in a year.
The U.S. sees more than 18 billion disposable diapers thrown away each year. They can take 550 years to decompose in landfills.
Aluminum cans take 80 to 200 years in landfills to completely decompose.
Styrofoam never decomposes -- ever.
And here is my favorite -- cigarette butts.
I quit more than 22 years ago. When I did smoke, I did not drop my butts on the ground or throw them from my car.
Some old-timers might know the term "field strip" and that is what the Army taught us "back in the day."
Extinguish the lit part, make sure that it is out, then put the butt in your pocket until you found a trash can.
If a Soldier did it differently and the sergeant major saw, you could bet a paycheck that Soldier would know all about "field stripping" a cigarette by the end of the day.
Just the other day, I followed a Soldier who I saw throwing his cigarette butt out of his truck window.
When he stopped, I pulled over, and it turns out I knew him. He told me that he threw it in the back of his truck, and it was there with a few other butts.
This is his method. It wasn't perfect, but it was enough for me not to give him a piece of my mind.
I wish more people were as conscientious as this noncommissioned officer.
Here are some stats for those who might not properly and safely dispose of their cigarette butts.
-- Most cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a form of plastic and takes an estimated 18 months to 10 years to decompose.
-- The toxins in used filters leach into ground and waterways, damaging living organisms.
-- Discarded butts threaten wildlife if ingested as a mistaken food source, and small children have swallowed filters.
-- Every year, discarded, lit cigarettes cause upwards of 90,000 fires in the U.S. alone.
-- It's estimated that trillions of filters become litter every year.
We can do more.
We have to want to do better.
October is Energy Action Month for the DOD.
All of this litter takes energy -- fuel for the trucks to transport collected trash; equipment costs to keep landfills going; rescue centers operating to heal injured or sick animals -- valuable energy is consumed because people litter. It's just that simple.
It's so easy to make a difference.
Pick up trash if you walk past it and properly dispose of it.
Use the Fort Leonard Wood recycling center.
Ensure you take your trash with you if in the field or training on post.
Use the trash receptacles that are in the drive-through lanes of almost every fast-food restaurant.
If your office isn't compliant with Army installation recycling programs, take the initiative to get everyone onboard.
Here is one last effort that is too easy.
Think about your actions and how they impact our world.
Don't trash your morals by being a litterbug.