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People Are Awesome: The Georgia Army National Guard’s Real-Life Captain Planet

Meet the devout National Guard captain who might just be the military's best recycler.

You might think 20 years of military service, two war deployments, and recycling enough trash to raise thousands of dollars for his church might be enough to wear one man out. But Andrew Lane, who is a soldier in the Georgia Army National Guard, is focused on an everlasting life mission: a zero waste lifestyle.

Lane is a walking example of living out one's values to the fullest. He made headlines in Iraq for carrying around Tupperware and re-using plastic spoons to protest the mountains of disposable dinnerware his base used every day. In Afghanistan, a colleague showed him a solar oven, and it was love at first sight: Lane used the oven to cook for anyone who wanted a taste of his sun-baked chicken; both NATO and Afghan soldiers took him up on his offer. "I showed them they don't need so much cow dung or kerosene," says Lane, referring to the two major fuel sources in Afghanistan.

He brought the oven home to Athens, Georgia, where, to date, he has cooked (and counted) 235 meals with it, including an enchilada feast for his 13th wedding anniversary. "It's free power," says Lane, "The sun shines nearly every day, and I'm hoping that one day Georgia's largest electric utility will figure this out." Lane bought a wood stove to spite his local power company for dragging their feet on offering green power. He also composts and raises his own chickens.

Despite all his other accomplishments, it's with his trash that Lane truly shines. Lane originally caught the recycling bug in college, when he and some friends revived an abandoned aluminum-recycling program that helped the earth while also earning them some coin. Lane’s been such a devout recycler ever since, so much so that he’s earned the nickname Captain PLaneT, a pun on his last name that even he uses as the signature on his official Army email account. His rank is captain, after all.

Lane and his family have gotten so adept at recycling that he says the now live in what's essentially a "trash free" home. Using services like TerraCycle, a New Jersey company that pays "bottle brigades" to collect bottles and other recyclable trash before turning them into other products like fake wood and plant food, Lane was able to cancel his trash collection, saving him about $200 per year. "There is no more trash, because everything I’ve figured out how to recycle," he says, "and in many cases get paid, or have my church get paid for it." He calls it "trash tithing."

Lane's church’s congregants have started bringing him their old potato chip wrappers and empty Bic pens to recycle for them. Lane packs it up into boxes and ships it to New Jersey. Last year, he shipped over 300 boxes, and of course he brings them to his local UPS by bicycle. In all, he’s earned $2,500 to fund eco-improvements for his church, like solar panels and a 450-gallon cistern to catch rainwater.

As Lane tells his 5- and 9-year-olds, trash doesn’t need to happen. "Some of their friends come over and we're like, 'Look, we don't throw things away here. We throw nothing away, because unless it's food, or it was food, we can sell it,'" says Lane, who’s now studying for a graduate certificate in sustainability.

For Lane, a guy as worried about human apathy as his bottle caps ending up in an albatross’ throat, when it comes to saving the planet, there’s no time to waste.

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