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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Public Affairs Office

Date: April 10, 2009
No: 09-07

Recycling emphasized during Women's History Month Program

Dr. Jo Ann Ratto, plastics engineer, Combat Feeding Directorate, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, discusses environmental research for the military as part of the Women's History Month Program at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center on March 18. One topic she discussed was reducing the thickness of Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) meal bags. Current and sample bags were passed among the audience to illustrate differences. (Photo by Rob Hawley)

Click for Larger Photo


NATICK, Mass. -- On March 18, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) held an event to celebrate Women's History Month.

Three speakers, two from the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Natick and one from the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), spoke on "Recycling," "Hazardous Waste/Recycling," and "Environmental Research for the Military," to keep in line with the national theme of "Women Taking the Lead to Save our Planet."

Dr. Jo Ann Ratto, plastics engineer, Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD), NSRDEC, spoke first. She began by mentioning the magnitude of waste problems, and specifically for the Army and Navy.

Each year, there are approximately 46 million rations procured and consumed by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, she said, resulting in 14,000 tons of packaging waste. An estimated cost for disposing fiberboard waste alone is $550,000 per year.

The Army is looking at ways to reduce this waste, and in the process, reduce the load for Warfighters. One of the projects is looking at eliminating the foil now used in Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) food pouches. Although this foil is a good barrier to oxygen, it is not recyclable. Also, as the CFD looks to advanced processing procedures, such as microwaving and high pressure processing for sterilization, the foil will also present a challenge. Therefore, the researchers are looking to move to a non-foil structure that can provide the same or better barrier properties. The Army has stringent shelf-life requirements of three years at 80 degrees F and six months at 100 degrees F, and nanotechnology, specifically, nanocomposite multilayer films, are being looked at to help achieve this goal.

Nanotechnology is also being looked at to improve the performance and to reduce the thickness of the MRE meal bag. Currently, the meal bag is 11 mil in thickness with more than .35 pounds of packaging waste per MRE.

If we can reduce the thickness with a nanocomposite structure, Ratto said, it will maintain performance and physical properties but allow us to reduce not only the waste, but also processing and distribution costs. A 6 mil nanocomposite meal bag has been developed and is in the demonstration/validation phase for the Army.

The fiberboard containers that MREs are packed in are also an area CFD is investigating for recycling and composting. Being able to reduce the weight but maintain performance is the major goal of this project, with an additional bonus of producing a valuable compost from the containers and military food waste. MRE cartons are currently made of solid fiberboard, and a lot of packaging companies don't even want to make this type of container anymore. Most are making corrugated cartons. CFD has produced some polymer coated corrugated prototypes for compression testing at different environmental conditions such as rain and cold weather.

Ratto also spoke on waste disposal problems the Navy has and mentioned they are looking at biobased and biodegradable items to help deal with those issues.

Showing photos of animals that had been affected by litter, such as a turtle that had a plastic ring around his middle that had deformed his shell, Ratto said that 60 to 80 percent of marine debris is from land-based sources, while 20 to 40 percent is from ocean-based sources.

She commented that people need to be educated about new materials recycling. "We all need to be aware of what is going on," she said.

The next speaker was Donna Stok, director, Logistics Directorate, USAG Natick. She spoke on items that are recycled on the NSSC installation.

"We recycle paper, cardboard, and scrap metal," she said. She reminded personnel of proper procedures for recycling. You need to discard items in proper receptacles and boxes need to be broken down, Stok continued. There are 111 barrels in 14 buildings on the installation. Toner cartridges can also be recycled and employees can leave used toners next to the recycling barrels.

You also need to think security, both information and operational security, before recycling, Stok told the work force. Our composter does not protect information. If you have documents that need to be shredded, ensure you do that before the paper is recycled.

With regard to scrap metal, Stok said that in 2008, 96,500 pounds of scrap metal was recycled, returning $73,000 back to the installation.

Stok mentioned two Executive Orders that deal with recycling. The first was Executive Order 13101, "Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition," and the second was Executive Order 12999, "Educational Technology: Ensuring Opportunity for All Children in the Next Century."

With regard to Executive Order 12999, Stok talked about the Department of Defense Computers for Learning Program (DOD CFL). The NSSC has an active DOD CFL program, but not as active as we would like, she said. A pamphlet about the DOD CFL was available after the presentation discussing which schools are on the list, how to get a school on the list, who has priority and more.

Excess laboratory and scientific equipment has also been transferred to Framingham State College and Texas A&M University through AMC-R 755-9, "Redistribution and Acquisition of Excess Installation Equipment," which allows for national technology transfer.

Closing out the guest speakers, Kathleen Messom, environmental protection specialist, USAG Natick, spoke about the NSSC hazardous waste and recycling program.

She mentioned battery buckets are placed throughout the installation for disposal of batteries. She also said that her office works with other personnel from the Directorate of Public Works to recycle light bulbs, HVAC coolant, and refrigerants.

Speaking about chemicals that personnel may need to use in their jobs, Messom suggested that personnel borrow chemicals and limit the amount they order. Also, she reminded the work force to turn-in unopened chemicals to Building 95.

In addition, she said construction debris is now reclaimed as recycled construction material and through a groundwater remediation project, non-consumable water is used for fire hydrants, for toilets, and for heating and air conditioning on the installation.

A song was played that summed up the message by all the speakers. The song is by Jack Johnson, and is called, "The 3 R's." The three R's he refers to are: "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle."

This page last updated on 10 May 2006.