How the U.S. military takes on food waste

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Many of the foods we eat every day — energy bars, canned goods, deli meats and more — were invented not for civilians but for our men and women in uniform. Many food innovations resulted from efforts to make soldiers’ rations taste good and last longer. But just as the U.S. military has influenced the food and beverages we eat, it also may be showing us the way to making sure we don’t waste it.

The military is doing this for myriad reasons. For one thing, those who defend us have openly voiced their concern about the impacts of climate change on national security, calling it a “threat multiplier” which will increase the likelihood of conflict as the earth warms up. And food and beverage waste is a major driver of climate change. Another is the economic — dealing with food and beverage waste is expensive for the military just as it is for businesses. Also, the less the military has to haul out means a more streamlined supply chain that increases the safety and effectiveness of our troops.

Composting saves bases big

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington has made reducing waste a top priority, having some 12 years ago founded Earthworks — a facility that provides on-base composting and recycling. Earthworks’ mission is to be good for the environment and to contribute to the sustainability of the base. After more than a decade in operation, Earthworks now diverts from landfills and incinerators each year more than 700 tons of waste from JBLM’s dining halls and commissaries and into the composting and recycling program. Meanwhile, the program composts and recycles yard debris, storm debris and stable waste, turning it into nutrient-rich mulch.

In 2012 alone, JBLM composted 670 tons of food waste, diverting the food from landfills and saving $300,000 in disposal costs. Revenue and savings from the program support the base’s recycling as well as its programs for family, morale, welfare and recreation.

The Army’s Net Zero Initiative

JBLM’s efforts come as part of the Army’s Net Zero Initiative, which the Army says is “a strategy for managing existing energy, water, and solid waste programs with the goal of exceeding minimum targets, where fiscally responsible, to provide greater energy and water security and increase operating flexibility.” In other words: the Army understands the social and environmental value of working to turn waste into resources.

The Army has called the Net Zero Initiative a “force multiplier,” meaning that becoming more efficient with its resources will strengthen its operations and protect our troops. It defines a “net zero” installation as one which applies an integrated approach to management of energy, water and waste to capture and commercialize the resource value and/or enhance the ecological productivity of land, water and air.

This Memorial Day, let’s ask ourselves one question: If the U.S. military — which focuses primarily on efficiency — thinks turning waste into resources is a good idea, shouldn’t we all?