Recycling at Camp Meade helps the war effort

Members of the 79th Training Division inspect recycling stations during World War I at Camp Meade. (Shorpy.com/SHORPY)

By Suzanne Kopich, Outreach Program Manager, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division

The term “Salvage for Victory” doesn’t sound much like a recycling ad, though in a roundabout way, it was

During World War I and World War II, recycling was common practice and performed with great enthusiasm. World War II ad campaigns like “Salvage For Victory” and “America Needs Your SCRAP RUBBER” rallied Americans to collect their tin cans, scrap metal, bottles, waste fats, rubber, silk, papers — all to support and sustain the war effort.

Patriotism was the motivation behind recycling. It enabled Americans on the homefront to do their part while the Soldiers were fighting abroad.

At the time of World War I, mass-produced consumer goods and prepackaged foods were not as plentiful and as common as they are today. Complicating matters, the manufacturing capability of the United States was very limited and couldn’t meet the needs of a rapidly expanding Army. This put an enormous strain on the ability to supply critical war material and equipment overseas in a timely manner.

It became necessary to be as frugal as possible with available resources and rely on already existing systems of re-use and recycling.

The focus wasn’t solely on recycling materials. Conservation was every bit as important. Americans were reminded of their wartime duty not to waste food or water and to conserve gas by carpooling. Some ads went as far to say that riding solo meant you were supporting Adolf Hitler!

Recycling was an integral part of Camp Meade’s operations in 1917. Scrap metal and food scraps were collected at garbage collection points at the camp’s mess halls. The steel-coated tin, or tin-plate cans, were shredded, melted down and turned back into new products.

Tin and copper were both used to produce ordnance. In order to meet the wartime demand, recycling was the faster and only option.

Food scraps had their own purpose. Bones and fatty meat scraps were collected and sold to rendering plants, which would process the scraps into a variety of products such as lard, tallow and glycerin. Glycerin was used to produce nitroglycerin, a primary ingredient in explosives and propellants for ammunition.

Today we’re motivated by a different kind of battle — our troubled environment and our limited natural resources.

Fort Meade has operated its own recycling facility since the late 1980s. Materials, including paper, glassware, cans, plastics, cardboard, printer ink cartridges — among other things — are collected across the installation, then crushed, shredded, bailed and sold.

Recycling has played an important role in Fort Meade’s mission for decades, whether it was helping to preserve our freedom or protect our environment.

It helped to win yesterday’s wars, but the battle to enhance tomorrow’s environment wages on.

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