FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Not so long ago, Americans didn't worry too much about energy consumption. Gasoline cost less than $1 a gallon (I can remember seeing 35 cents!). It didn't cost much to light and heat our homes. It seemed our supply of natural resources was endless.

As anyone who's bought gas or paid a utility bill recently knows, that is no longer the case, and certainly not in Alaska. The price of gasoline, heating oil and electricity continues to rise, cutting into our budgets both at home and within the garrison.

We must all act responsibly to make the best use of our resources; to retrain ourselves and our families about how best to use water, electricity and other resources.

At the garrison level, we are trying to do our part in several ways.

We have implemented a robust recycling program. We entered into a partnership with K & K Recycling and North Haven Communities, our housing partner, to dispose of paper, plastics, glass and metal. Since we started our recycling efforts late last summer, we have collected more than 385,000 pounds of materials. Fort Wainwright realizes a profit on some of the items we recycle, and we avoid landfill fees on all the waste we divert; by the end of this month we will have more than $130,000 that we can spend on installation programs to improve your quality of life.
Additionally, North Haven is working with K & K Recycling to begin recycling waste building materials such as sheetrock, metals, concrete, wood, packaging, cardboard and plastic.

North Haven partnered with our recycling program, K & K and Mainscape to sponsor the first sustainable "Natural Christmas Tree Recycling Event" in the Interior of Alaska, offering Fort Wainwright residents the opportunity to recycle their real Christmas trees.

Last summer we installed headbolt outlets that cycle on and off so vehicles are not pulling electricity all day long when they are plugged in during the winter months while still protecting our vehicles. Our Directorate of Public Works estimates the outlets could save Fort Wainwright up to $420,000 a year in electricity costs.

We are working with the Fairbanks North Star Borough to determine whether a bus route to Fort Wainwright is a feasible project. If successful, the bus could contribute to a decrease in traffic leaving and entering post and could add to improved air quality in the area.

The renovations of 112 Southern Cross homes at North Haven during the past 18 months have produced a number of used appliances that were in good condition and available for reuse. North Haven donated 203 appliances to the Interior Regional Housing Authority, which were distributed to low-income Alaska Natives in Fairbanks, North Pole, Tanana and other Interior villages. And the renovated and newly constructed home are much more energy efficient.

The Army has given us a vision and a goal our leaders call Net Zero - that of managing our resources in a sustainable manner. The premise behind Net Zero is that our use of resources and our production of resources will equal each other.

Army leadership calls it a "holistic approach to addressing energy, water and waste."

The Net Zero approach is comprised of five interrelated steps: reduction, re-purpose, recycling and composting, energy recovery, and disposal. Whether you live on or off post, you can help our national conservation goals. If you live in quarters on post, live as if you are paying the utility bills yourself, because ultimately you are.

Don't waste the resources by using them when they're not needed. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Fix leaky faucets. Turn the thermostat down in winter and open windows instead of using the air conditioner in summer. Combine errands and shopping into one trip, carpool or use public transportation. Use the collection points both on and off post for used paper, plastics and metal so they can be recycled rather than take up space in the landfill.

Our sustainability officer, Capt. Timothy Hall, is working diligently to educate everyone on post about the benefits of reducing energy consumption and of recycling. Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of Installation Management Command, has noticed our energy efforts and included us, along with other installations, as an example of locations moving in the right direction toward Net Zero.

For more information on our energy conservation and recycling programs, call Capt. Hall at 353-7500.

Our Environmental Office has information on methods of conserving energy and resources. Contact Eric Dick at 361-3006.

If you live on post, contact North Haven Communities at 356-7120 for problems like leaky faucets and tips on conserving resources. Off-post residents can contact their local utilities for resource-saving tips.