Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of articles about Fort Polk’s Net Zero Heroes — community members who go above and beyond to make the post a more environmentally sound place to live. Net Zero is an initiative to eliminate as much waste as is created by the community. If you have someone you would like to nominate as a Net Zero Hero, call (337) 531-1392.
It’s hard to believe something composed of 95 percent air takes more than one million years to break down in a landfill. That’s the case, though, with Styrofoam cups – made to be light, insulating, inexpensive and disposable. The other five percent of these cups consists of polystyrene, derived from petroleum and natural-gas byproducts.
Karen Serenbetz, Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group Command secretary, earns the title of Fort Polk Net Zero Hero for eliminating Styrofoam cup usage in her office. She’s humble about the honor, however, because reducing, reusing and recycling comes naturally to her.
“I personally am not trying to be anything special,” she said. “I’m not in Greenpeace or any other formal organization.”
Many visitors pass through the Ops Grp command group office causing Styrofoam cups to become an issue. Putting her economical sense into practice, Serenbetz reuses a handful of plastic coffee mugs. At the end of every work day, she washes the sink full of dirty cups and the next morning puts them away.
“We haven’t used a Styrofoam cup in our office for months,” she said.
Serenbetz applies thriftiness throughout the office. Using a sink-mountable water filter, she eliminates the office’s dependence from bottled water consumption.
“We fill pitchers with filtered water and ice for meetings," she said. "I keep a supply of filters in my desk drawer and keep track of when we change them."
She also reuses binding combs — those plastic spines used to hold together documents. There’s a running joke in the office because she habitually saves these binding combs from the regular trash.
“If I see someone about to throw away a binder, I’ll say, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Although it’s a joke, it still makes my co-workers aware that like-new office items can be reused and maybe they’ll try some of these things at their own house,” Serenbetz said.
Because of this frugal strategy, binding combs have been eliminated from the purchasing list for over five years, according to Serenbetz.
Serenbetz continually looks for ways to reduce the office’s carbon footprint.
Because of the amount of both purposeful and accidental waste, Serenbetz believes the importance of Fort Polk’s Net Zero initiative and her personal stance on recycling are one and the same.
“Whether it’s at the house or here at the office, we go through a great deal of materials in the course of the day because we need to, but we still create a lot of waste,” she said.
Making the move to reusable coffee mugs has proven fruitful. Before the switch, boxes of Styrofoam cups took up precious office supply space.
“Recycling saves storage and money, too," she said. "All the way around, it’s a neat idea."
Serenbetz enjoys spreading the recycling word. Her seemingly small initiative of merely a few, reusable mugs, has made an immense impact not only on the office’s physical environment but its camaraderie as well.