Meal time at the US Air Force Academy’s Mitchell Hall is a sight to behold. 400 tables served in less than 5 minutes, family style and with more than enough food to go around. A sea of 4000 cadets, in and out in less than 30 minutes: a gracefully-choreographed tradition and marvel of efficiency. For an outsider, it is a fascinating and remarkable system – until it’s time to clear the tables.
I think it’d be conservative to estimate that nearly as much is thrown away as is eaten – every meal, three times a day, seven days a week, 46 weeks a year. Leftovers, table scraps, drinks, even all condiments, are tossed in the trash during the momentously efficient clean-up drill. In many ways, it makes perfect sense: the hardly-touched jar of salsa is no longer sanitary and the mostly-full milk carton has been sitting out for nearly 45 minutes. What could be done with 1000 leftover dinner rolls and 800 chicken breasts, anyway? There is no recycling for bottles or jars, no compost for food scraps – only trash for food and packaging alike. Incredibly efficient. And an incredible waste.
How difficult would it be to institute recycling capabilities? On the scale that Mitchell Hall produces recyclable materials, it’s highly likely that such a program could run a profit. Compost? A straightforward on-site lifecycle with benefits ranging from landscaping fertilizer to reduced waste transportation costs. There are so many options to reduce waste – to offer none is not only irresponsible, but sets a lasting precedent for our nation’s developing leaders.
I can’t help but lament how the Armed Force community in general tends to be overtly wasteful. Everything is budget-driven, and our priorities are elsewhere: there is simply little effort to minimize use of resources or ecological impact. This case is merely one small example, but one that could be so easily mitigated.
Executive Order 13693, issued in March 2015, gave the DOD (Department of Defense) a nudge in the right direction. The order calls for specified increases in renewable energy use and waste reduction, among other initiatives . Thus far, no strides have been made to develop strategy or policy to meet the requirements . Other federal initiatives, such as the 2005 Energy Policy Act and publications of the EPA and Department of Energy, carry similar intent – but their influence is limited to their enforcement.
What can you do? Call your federal legislators (find your Representative or Senator) and tell them about your concerns. Let them know that you are dissatisfied with the progress we’ve made, that renewable energy and recycling/composting infrastructure are important to growth, and that federal agencies must be held to established standards. Whether you’re motivated by lunch at the Academy or other federal shortcomings isn’t important – in the end it is our responsibility to hold our government accountable for what we believe to be right.