TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Commissary customers in the self-checkout lines gave some strange looks to Tech Sgt. Martin Miller, 60th Maintenance Squadron, when he and seven other off-duty Airmen from the squadron began bagging their groceries Oct. 29.
The Airmen not only provided each customer at Travis Air Force Base, California, a free reusable bag, they also explained how discarded plastic bags affect the environment.
“Once we explained what was going on, they were very open to the idea,” said Miller. “A lot of customers were surprised that we had reusable produce bags. That was a big hit as well.
According to Miller, the day was a trial run to gauge customers’ reaction to using reusable grocery bags.
“I am also getting information on how many bags the commissary goes through during an average week or month,” said Miller.
Miller’s plan is track changes to see if the commissary uses fewer plastic bags.
For his own experience, Miller has determined that on large reusable bag can replace up to 10 plastic bags.
“Most people just throw these bags away when they unload their groceries and don’t think twice about it. I wanted to inform them while also giving them something they can use the next time.
Miller spent two months visiting local retailers and environmental agencies that donated 350 reusable grocery bags and 300 reusable produce bags.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, regulating plastic bags can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forest and wildlife, as well as relieve pressure on landfills and waste management. The NCSL website reports that at least 73 bills have been introduced regarding the use of plastic bags in retail settings.
California imposed a statewide ban on plastic bags in 2014 and requires stores to charge a minimum fee of 10 cents for each recycled bag, reusable plastic bag and for compostable bags in some locations. Some states have labeling requirements or charge a tax.
“It’s just a start, but I hope to bring awareness to more people about the importance of using sustainable resources versus single-use plastic bags,” said Miller, who arrived at Travis in January.
During an assignment to Germany in 2008, Miller became environmentally conscious.
“In Germany, everyone recycles; it’s the law,” said Miller. “But, (the Germans) are also very aware of the effect trash has on the environment and how important being sustainable is to the planet’s future. I brought that attitude back to America.”
When he moved to Florida in 2012, Miller realized that recycling was becoming more acceptable.
“Fast forward to 2017 when I met my wife,” said Miller. “I learned more from her. I thought you could recycle anything, but she pointed out that here, some things aren’t recyclable and that varies from state to state. I had no idea.”
What Miller began, the base’s environmental management coordinator hopes to expand.
“We hope to take the efforts of Sergeant Miller and the 60 MXS volunteers to form a more permanent reusable bag event at Travis,” said Jonathan Carlson, 60 Civil Engineer Squadron. “We already recycle cardboard and green waste.”
The base recycled 2,800 tons of cardboard in fiscal 2018, which was nearly 200 tons more than in FY 2017. Although the base does not receive the proceeds for the items, it does not pay for its removal.
Carlson encourages anyone with a recycling idea to contact him at 707-424-2984.