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U.S. Military Goes Big for Bioplastics

Military considering bioplastic for food packaging.An army travels on its stomach, and the U.S. military is no exception. The impact is evident in the packaging, especially plastic packaging, left over from MRE’s, Unitized Group Rations, and other packaged food supplies. That’s about to change, big time. Food waste composting is on the horizon for U.S. military bases and even field operations, and close on its heels is a compostable bioplastic for military use.

Mounds of Military Plastic

SERDP, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, is the Department of Defense’s lead agency on developing priority solutions for sustainable military operations.  SERDP estimates that the civilian population in North America uses 1.5 billion pounds of plastic film per year and 8.5 billion pounds of plastic foam.  Based on those figures, the U.S. military in Iraq alone, with a force of 135,000 troops, generates about 446 million pounds of plastic waste per year.

The logistics of waste disposal for the U.S. military are becoming increasingly burdensome, especially concerning the fuel needed to incinerate waste.  Extra fuel means extra convoys, and more troops put needlessly at risk.  With food-related military waste accounting for a large percentage of the overall volume, the incentive to switch to biodegradable packaging is a strong one.

Metabolix Bioplastics and the Military

For the past several years, the bioplastics company Metabolix has been working with the U.S. military to develop biodegradable plastic packaging, using plants as feedstock.  It won’t be a first for Metabolix, which recently partnered with Target to make bioplastic gift cards from sugar.

Military Bioplastic from Corn – or Cow Pats?

Corn has fallen out of favor as a truly sustainable feedstock for biofuel, and the same goes for bioplastic, too.  But if current developments are any indication, the U.S. military may eventually settle on any number of alternatives.  Just to name a few there’s switchgrass, of course, a weedy looking plant called crambe, bacteria, and even cow pats.

With food waste composting on the horizon for U.S. military bases and even field operations, civilians will have to run to catch up with the military’s progress in sustainability.

Image: Thisisit2 on flickr.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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