In between sorting through a bag of moldy bread and a carton of sour milk, Ray Canafax dug something out of a plastic sack that amused him.
“You need a toothbrush?” Canafax asked his friend, Tyler Smith.
About 40 sailors and civilian personnel assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island spent last Friday rummaging through garbage in a parking lot at the Nor’wester Activity Center.
The sailors and civilian employees participated in the base’s annual Dumpster Dive competition, the headliner in a series of base-wide events that recognized Earth Day.
A dumpster containing unaltered garbage from one of the barracks was wheeled in so eight teams representing different units from across the base could vie for the title of top recycler.
The team that sorted through the trash bags and recycled the most glass, cardboard and paper earned a free round of bowling at the base’s Convergence Zone.
Even food scraps were redirected to a compost bin.
“There’s lots of stuff in there,” said Canafax, an aviation support equipment technician who along with Smith was representing Fleet Readiness Center Northwest. “It’s fun. It’s great knowledge to know what you can recycle for sure and what you can’t.”
Although Earth Day was officially Saturday, the Navy picked Friday to get a head start, beginning with a base-wide litter cleanup in the morning.
That was followed by a tree planting near the barracks at Ault Field attended by Capt. Geoff Moore, the base’s commanding officer.
More than two dozen sailors also went to Deception Pass to clean up hiking trails.
“Earth Day is important; it signifies our rejuvenation for spring,” Moore said.
“This year’s theme is ‘Building Strength Through Stewardship.’ I don’t think there’s a base in the nation that does it better than us.”
NAS Whidbey has been a longtime award winner for its environmental protection activities. Most recently, the base won the 2016 Navy Community Service Award for Environmental Stewardship.
“It’s good to stop for a little while and raise the awareness of what’s going on, even just picking up trash,” said Jason Killian, who works with the Public Works Department on the base.
“Also, hopefully it increases awareness that you should do this every day, not just when it’s scheduled.”
Killian watched as Moore and others planted a northern red oak near a newly built recreational gazebo between barracks.
The hardy tree can live between 200-400 years, said Phil Derise, an environmental protection specialist with Public Works.
This was the 22nd year that military and civilians at NAS Whidbey took time out of their day to engage in activities in support of Earth Day.
“I did this in Texas for seven or eight years and that’s a hard state to do environmental in because it’s brown and flat and there are no trees,” Derise said.
“Here, it’s green. It’s nice. It’s beautiful. It’s very easy to sell environmental here. Why wouldn’t you want to come outside?”
Still, as some learned during the Dumpster Dive event, helping the planet can be a dirty job. At least a smelly one.
But it also can be rewarding.
For the fiscal year 2016, NAS Whidbey diverted 71 percent of trash from the waste stream, according to Mike Grant, the integrated solid waste operations manager at Navy Whidbey Recycle. That accounted for a savings of more than $1 million that it would have cost to transport to a landfill off-island.
Yard waste from the base and food waste from the Admiral Nimitz Hall, Navy Exchange and Commissary go to an extensive composting system in place at the air station.
“It’s a major goal of the Navy’s to reduce our footprint in landfills and the only way to do that is to recycle,” Grant said.